It’s a shame there’s such ill will being generated in the Cos Cob community, and so much misinformation. It’s painful to read some of the online commentary that fans the flames in this neighborhood conflagration, ignited by a proposal to build a synagogue on Orchard Street. Minds have closed. Hearts have hardened.
It makes no difference that there are as yet no specific building plans for the synagogue, no architectural drawings.There’s as yet no developed proposal to present to the neighbors. There’s only an imagined monster. Oppose this monster no matter what. Take up arms and fight it off, lest it destroy our neighborhood.
And heaven forbid anyone suggest a synagogue could be beneficial to the neighborhood, with the right design and planning, or that there might be room for dialogue. Anyone who dares take such a moderately reasoned approach risks immediate attack.
Cos Cob residents who are more open to the idea of a synagogue – such people do exist – are not likely to put themselves in the line of fire.
The letters to the editor by state representative Fred Camillo and prominent Greenwich Republican Ed Dadakis that appeared in Greenwich Time this past Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, exemplify the deepening divide and spread of misinformation.
Both the Camillo and Dadakis letters are attacks on Greenwich Time columnist Bob Horton who wrote about the synagogue controversy in his December 7 column.They contend that Horton inaccurately characterized a recent meeting the neighborhood opposition held at the Cos Cob firehouse and that he misrepresented Camillo’s role at that meeting, as well as that of state senator Scott Frantz.
But Horton’s basic description of the meeting does not differ factually from a November 21 Greenwich Patch article by Chandra Johnson Greene. The difference is that Greene’s article was straight reporting, and Horton’s column expresses an opinion and develops an argument, which is what columnists are supposed to do.
Horton argued that, as responsible elected officials, Camillo and Frantz could have exercised true leadership by bringing a more reasoned approach to this incendiary and emotional situation. And they could have provided certain basic information such as the nature of the zoning process, or that the synagogue plans were still in a very formative stage, or that there could be room for dialogue.
Instead, by playing on emotions and encouraging the audience to fight the synagogue, these elected leaders also encouraged divisiveness and did not take responsibility for fostering better communication and providing the community with more accurate information. This was the main thrust of Horton’s column.
That Camillo and Dadakis reacted to the column the way they did seems to illustrate the very point Horton was making.
“So, we went, we listened, we advocated, and we pledged to help in any way we can, and did so in a calm manner where we advised all to ‘speak with one voice.’ How is that dividing?”
Strangely, Camillo’s description of the role he and Frantz played is exactly what Horton said it was. But Camillo apparently does not see anything divisive in advising the audience to “speak with one voice” in what’s presumably unified opposition to Greenwich Reform Synagogue.
Camillo begins his letter by referring to Horton’s viewpoint as “incendiary,” in spite of the fact that Horton noted this as an opportunity for political leaders like Camillo and Frantz to “tone down the emotionally charged rhetoric and encourage true community conversation.”
While Horton called for defusing an incendiary situation, if anything, Camillo and Frantz fueled the fire of neighborhood opposition. Camillo’s use of the word “incendiary” in reference to Horton is therefore bizarre.
Camillo suggests that Horton’s column was “a blatant lie.” But while taking issue with Horton’s point of view, he offers no refutation of any of the factual information Horton puts forth. A viewpoint is just that. How can a personal point of view be a lie?
Following this fabrication theme, Dadakis calls Horton “a fantasy writer” and claims his writing is “grounded in neither fact nor fairness.”
So let’s consider this matter of accurate information.
Camillo refers to Greenwich Reform Synagogue’s plan to build on Orchard Street as “transforming a neighborhood, and thus setting a precedent where no neighborhood would be immune to commercial development… Churches and synagogues are both vital components of our community, for sure, but that doesn’t mean we can put them any place we like if we have the money to retain legal counsel and former P&Z members.”
These are misleading statements.
A house of worship, both by its nature and from a zoning perspective, is not commercial development. Building a house of worship in a residential neighborhood does not open the door to commercial development. Many, if not most, Greenwich churches are in residential neighborhoods, and there is legislation pertaining to land use and religious institutions, with protections for places of worship.
Apart from these inaccuracies, there’s something truly disturbing about Camillo’s reference to the synagogue having “the money to retain legal counsel and former P&Z members.” This implies some kind of improper conduct on the part of Greenwich Reform Synagogue and unidentified former members of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Without saying it exactly and without identifying the parties, Camillo implies there will be improper influence exercised in pushing through something that otherwise wouldn’t be permitted. Dadakis makes this implication explicit and identifies one of the former P&Z members.
Dadakis writes, introducing into the already highly charged situation an irrelevant and unhelpful politically partisan element :
“Horton failed to tell you that Democratic Chairman Frank Farricker is helping the synagogue in their quest for P&Z approval and is getting paid to do so. Not surprising, since Horton likes to protect Democrats. Farricker’s involvement sets off alarm bells of undue influence.”
Undue influence? Wow! That’s quite an accusation.
After reading the Dadakis letter, I contacted Greenwich Reform Synagogue president Robert Birnbaum and learned that the Dadakis assertion is simply not true. According to Birnbaum, Farricker’s only role is as real estate broker, which is what Farricker does for a living. And the only compensation he’s receiving is his broker’s commission, as is appropriate.
That Farricker is a Democrat and former P&Z member is completely irrelevant.
Farricker has no involvement in the P&Z process which is being handled by the synagogue’s attorney Tom Heagney, who specializes in land use. Yes, quite some time ago, Heagney, a respected attorney who regularly appears before the Planning and Zoning Commission, himself served on that board. But so what?
Lies? Fabrication? Misleading information? Innuendo?
It is indeed a shame there’s such ill will, and so much misinformation.