A neighborhood dispute that has seethed for years appears to be over after the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment granted a house of worship permit to a local shul. Congregation Etz Chaim owns 554 Queen Anne Road, where Rabbi Daniel Feldman has hosted a minyan for several years.
Neighbors had complained that Etz Chaim should have applied for a house of worship permit when it applied for a building permit to expand the home, adding a family room.
But Rabbi Feldman and the group pointed out that they wrote a letter to the town’s zoning official, Steven Gluck, telling him they planned to hold regular services there, and were granted a certificate of occupancy for the room.
Gluck issued a cease-and-desist letter to the group in 2008 after the neighbors filed a petition. Etz Chaim then applied for a house of worship permit and the zoning board held a series of hearings over the course of nearly a year.
The final resolution approving the permit, which also includes a number of restrictions intended to assuage the neighbors’ concerns, was recently passed by the board.
“We are hoping to have a more peaceful future,” Rabbi Feldman said Friday.
Janet Abbott, who lives nearby and helped lead the protests against the group, said she felt the conditions the board attached to the approval would ensure that the neighbors are protected and that Etz Chaim would have to go through the zoning process if it expands its activities.
“That’s all we wanted,” she said. She added that she hoped both sides would be able to move on.
But Rif Campeas, another neighbor, said the ruling had created a “new class” in town.
“If you’re religious, you’re allowed to be deceptive,” he said.
The rabbi said Campeas’ assertion was baseless.
“The claim that we were deceptive is factually false,” he said, citing the letter to Gluck as well as two meetings with town officials.
Gluck sent a follow-up letter to Rabbi Feldman and Etz Chaim stating that “at no time has the owner or Rabbi Feldman attempted to mislead me or the Township of Teaneck,” and that his cease-and-desist order should not be construed as implying otherwise.
Instead, he said, the Etz Chaim case involved complex legal issues and neighbor concerns and was best left to the board to adjudicate.
The restrictions include limits on the number and length of services, a parking plan, a ban on most outdoor activities and a prohibition on cooking equipment in the kitchenette. In addition, the board required the congregation to designate a community liaison to respond to any issues from other residents.
“It’s quite a relief,” said Robert Ehrlich, the president of the group. “From our perspective, this was never a fight worth fighting. We want to move on. To the extent that the neighbors have comments on things we can do to make their lives less disruptive, we’re willing to do that.”