Synagoge sues town for civil rights violation

Greenwich Reform Synagogue has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that its civil rights were violated when the town shot down its controversial plan to build a new house of worship.

The complaint filed Monday calls to question the “burdensome, discriminatory and unreasonable” land use regulations that the town, and specifically the Planning and Zoning board, have called on to prevent the construction project.

Last month the congregation’s project failed to obtain a needed exemption from the Board of Zoning Appeals. Though the project had already been granted preliminary approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission, the exemption was necessary for the project go before the Architectural Review Committee before going back to Planning and Zoning for final approval.

The lawsuit alleges that the board’s denial of congregation’s request for an exemption was based on the misapplication of state and local laws as well as a desire to prevent the construction of a synagogue in Greenwich.

The zoning board’s denial of an exemption for the project comes amid continued opposition from a vocal group of Cos Cob neighbors of the proposed site off Orchard Street, just north of the intersection with Valleywood Road. They argue the 12,000-square-foot building is drastically out of step with their otherwise residential neighborhood and would negatively affect everything from property values and wetland drainage to traffic and local character.

Synagogue planners said they have carefully heeded the recommendations of town planning officials to scale down the project — the planned structure was originally planned to be nearly 20,000 square feet.

The shrunken 12,000-square-foot plan is not abnormally large compared to other similarly zoned religious facilities in town, according to figures compiled by the synagogue. The Greenwich Baptist Church on 10 Indian Rock Lane, less than half a mile from the proposed GRS location, is just under 24,000 square feet.

But opponents of the synagogue say that is an apples to oranges comparison — zoning rules have changed since most religious buildings in town went up.

In an effort to build a synagogue that blends in with its surroundings, GRS has selected architect Mark Thompson, a Greenwich native now based in Philadelphia who has worked on many projects in town, including Greenwich Country Day School and Perrot Library. Thompson says harmonizing the synagogue with the broader community and environment is a top priority.