Community members have been far from shy about voicing their objections at a recent meeting, held by Community Board 15, concerning the possible expansion of the Shaare Zion Synagogue in Brooklyn.
In the December 20 meeting, local residents declared their opposition to expansion efforts with a litany of complaints about their current living conditions. They told of the perturbing parking situation, excessive noise, and foreign garbage that pervades their living quarters, and how enlargement of the synagogue will only aggravate these issues. With multitudes revisiting the synagogue day and night to attend shiurim or occasions, neighbors have experienced non-stop disruptions from guests and caterers, which have wreaked havoc with their sleeping habits and social lives, while also creating a mess in general.
The Board acknowledged their troubles voting 19-13 against the proposal to enlarge the current establishment (with virtually all residents of the neighborhood voting “nay”). Though the meeting was only held as an advisory session, its results will be taken into consideration when the Board of Standards and Appeals issues a decision at a later time.
In the emotional gathering organized by Community Board 15, residents and committee members assembled to evaluate the communal benefits and disadvantages of expansion. Lyra Altman, the synagogue’s representative, began the meeting by outlining the purpose of the initiative and the details of the plan. “One of the most important things that your board needs to know,” explained Altman, “is that we are not planning to bring any additional people to this site with this enlargement. The purpose of this enlargement is to accommodate the existing congregation. Anyone who prays here is aware that this synagogue is overcrowded.”
Altman continued to say that the synagogue also aims to enhance the safety of congregants and to create a more secure learning environment. The enlargement, which will elevate the building to a height of six stories, will include eight classrooms and two multi-purpose rooms. Attendees of the meeting were assured that no room would be earmarked for the usage of caterers, as proponents further emphasized that the current efforts were only being made to fix problems, not create opportunities.
After zoning regulations and architectural details were discussed, community members were given the opportunity to speak. Each speaker was allotted three minutes, and all conveyed their dismay at the prospect of enlargement. “[The enlargement] will cause more noise, will exponentially multiply the garbage problem, the traffic, it will generate more trash, it will damage someone’s foundation most likely, it will blot out the light. By my reckoning it will cast a shadow some 80 yards long … it will engulf our homes in perpetual night time,” said neighbor Abraham Safdieh.
Indeed, sources indicate that the project, which would cost upwards of an estimated $20 million, is primarily the brainchild of the building committee, comprised of Paul Sutton, Albert Cohen, and Eli Cohen, with Sutton serving as the driving force behind the initiative. Since involving themselves in the project, Paul Sutton and Albert Cohen have been voted off of the congregation’s executive board. Some observers are speculating that their dismissal was in response to their support for the unpopular project.
Opponents were skeptical that the enlargement would not attract more visitors. “You’re saying no more people are going to come,” exclaimed local resident Heather Dayan to the board. “How is that so? You build more space more people are going to come.” Another speaker testified to being a victim of overdevelopment, and exhorted residents to arduously oppose any such initiative that might detrimentally impact their livelihoods.
An informed community member contacted by the Voice, who asked to remain anonymous, said that talks were unlikely to resume for another six to eight months. “Most committee members were against it to begin with,” he mentioned. Whether or not the expansion project will materially progress in the upcoming months, it is clear that many unacknowledged issues have been plaguing residents in the neighboring area for quite some time. Ms. Altman, who returned at the culmination of the meeting, urged the residents to “take [her] business card” so that she could take the appropriate steps to resolve the parking, garbage, and other untreated disturbances in the area. A hearing with the Board of Standard and Appeals has yet to be arranged; more information concerning the status of the project will likely emerge in the future.