Uh oh, the synagogue is now officially news


The WSJ has noticed. I do recall predicting that the combination of Jews, Greenwich and a zoning battle would prove irresistible to the New York press and here it begins. Can the New York Post be far behind?



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31 responses to “Uh oh, the synagogue is now officially news

  1. Georgie

    I believe Mr. Birnbaum did not help his cause by calling some of his opponents “lunatic fringe.”

  2. Anonymous

    NYTimes will be all over this. I don’t expect NYPost to pay too much attention.

  3. Check out the mosque they are putting up in Norwalk. Right smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Imagine, you can see the minuets from the ninth green at Oak Hills Golf Course.

  4. The copy editing in the WSJ has gone way down hill. “white-show law firms”? It’s “shoe”. “White shoe law firms”. a reference to the white buck shoes once popular at WASPy colleges.

  5. Anonymous

    Last time there was a big religious bias lawsuit it didn’t end out with outcome the Belle Haven Club initially desired. But when the dust settled everybody seemed happy in the end. I predict much angst here for 2 years and then a tastefully designed place of worship and everybody will wonder why there was ever a fuss.

    • Trojan Horse

      With all due respect, this is a zoning issue, not a discrimination case, and I really doubt GRS would even try to make a legal argument along those lines when they have a huge uphill battle involving public safety, traffic, wetlands, declining property values of adjoining lots, and the fact that they bought a non-conforming lot. The WSJ article was a fluff piece that was short on facts and long on emotion.

  6. Walt

    Dude –
    What would the Post headline be for this story? How about “Something not Kosher in Greenwich”? Or “WASPs Sting Jews”? “Lox of Problems in Cos Cob”?
    And when did Cos Cob become a part of Greenwich? I just thought they were an adjacent slum, like NOPO?
    Your Pal,

  7. greenwich dude

    i posted this elsewhere, but still, i just don’t get how a new synagogue there isn’t a massive improvement. i mean, everyone posting should drive by and take a gander. yech.

  8. Cos Cobber

    Depends on the site plan. If they are going to squeeze in 100 parking spaces and 20,000 sq ft building then its not an improvement to the 10 homes which directly abut the site. Yes, they are taking down the eyesore of the community in the process (the current house), but now all the other homes will have backyards against a parking lot rather than a rundown pair of homes (they are acquiring another house which isnt the nicest). For the remaining homes, their backyards will look like those homes stuck behind the Cos Cob CVS; a big fence with pavement and institutional lighting gleaming in the night on the other side.

    Dude, you might not have children yet. Once you have children you’s see neighborhoods very differently. You’ll want it to be thoroughly residential and quiet because its no fun guarding your children all day from extra car traffic and strange visitors to the neighborhood.

    Pre kids I’d live anywhere too. Didnt care.

    • JRH

      “strange visitors to the neighborhood,” Cos Cobber?

      • Cos Cobber

        JRH, nothing special meant by that other than to point out that anytime you live in close proximity to a public venue, whether its a store or anything else, those walking or motoring by the house are predominately strangers to you. In my current setting, which is 100% residential, I know or recognize more than 75% of the people who walk by my house (but obviously far fewer of those driving). Its a lot more comfortable playing and letting the kids play in the front yard in a setting where the external (non immediate neighborhood) traffic is minimize.

  9. greenwich dude

    cos cobber

    kids are a big roger – got several of them. i myself learned how to ride my skateboard in the parking lot of the round hill community center and in the winding lanes of putnam cemetery. maybe the synagogue would be a nice and welcoming community member. after all, when you live in a village like CC (which i love), you gotta expect some commercial incursions, otherwise it ain’t a village. btw, the other option for maintaining perpetual residences would be to *gasp* buy up the properties and make them that way.

  10. Cos Cobber

    Dude, whoops – never read your posts as a father – but as a dude.

    Guess we disagree on the shades of gray with respect to what one should tolerate when living in a village. Your solution sounds fair; but very much doubt that is on the table.

    Its just too bad the land wasnt double the size to avoid the tight fit. And too bad one of the innumerable eyesores on rte 1 couldnt be the focus of this development. Put this on rte 1 and no one has a right to complain.

  11. JRH

    CF is right: this could turn into something not very nice for Greenwich. Georgie, not sure why Mr. Birnbaum’s use of the term “lunatic fringe” is objectionable considering that Ms. Littman, one of the opposition leaders, acknowledged the same thing (that some of the comments were making her uncomfortable, and we know why). And if Mr. Birnbaum’s words were objectionable, what to make of Rep. Camillo’s in his Greenwich Time letter to the editor:

    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.

    Public officials should be especially mindful of language like this. If this turns into “our good neighbors” and “those people who aren’t from around here, with all their money and their fancy lawyers,” that starts to make people sensibly uncomfortable.

    • I’ve had a few comments that were either over the line or nearing it that I tossed out – I wouldn’t call them “lunatic fringe” (a term that just last week was purged from federal laws and regulations as offensive, JRH, so mind your manners!) – just plain ol’ anti-Semites. Ugly, yes, but sadly, a strain of racism that dates back thousands of years. I hesitate to cover it up because maybe it should be exposed but at least on these pages, we’re not going there.

      • The Jewrilla in da Mist

        Plain ol’ anti-Semites. Yep, dumbasses afraid of people who ain’t the people they know. Strangers.

        Who is that exactly, in the real world of Cos Cob? You’re talking about young families all of whom are already in town including mine. They’d spend a few hours a week in your neighborhood they don’t spend now. I struggle to see how this is a problem.

        There are dozens of kids in that membership — all the reasons why the synagogue should be in a safe residential neighborhood, near schools, churches, and protective aware homeowners like Cobber.

        There are two issues here. One is about land use. It’s legit as far as it goes. Did Birnbaum get a little ahead of himself – yeah. Did he plan on a bigger than practical facility – yeah. Is he backing off and resetting his own expectations – yeah.

        The other is about protecting who from what. Let’s say the main day to day impact on the neighborhood is a bunch of Jewish kids running around. These kids go to school in town already…they may be in your neighborhood already…does that give you people the Heebie Geebies?

        Go there or don’t go there – it’s there, it’s here, and it’s sickening. I grew up Jewish in Greenwich in the 70s – I had very little choice when I was accosted by kids who, ironically, came from Bible Street, Orchard and Sinawoy – evidently they grew up without maturing, from the tone of some of this.

        I’m sure that “Boos for Jews” and “Hitler should have finished the job” while I was getting pounded behind Central had no impact on my attitude growing up – yet I stay in town, recommend the town, and am raising my kids Jewish here.

        “Why don’t those people want us in their neighborhood dad?”

        The majority of the motivation to the objection is NIMBY. The end.

  12. anonymous

    The former site of Patsy Crucitti’s florist is for sale on the Post road, and this seems like a much better option for a synagogue. It is already zoned commercial, and if it’s not large enough to accomodate parking, another building is available a few doors down that can be converted to a parking lot.

    • Works for me, and you’re right – the gray building next door is also for sale. I’m sure those parcels were considered and rejected but perhaps they could be revisited.

  13. Georgie

    JRH—the fact that you dont find it objectionable to be called a “lunatic” by an opposing party speaks volume to your lack of intellectual honesty to the debate.

    Both parties should remain respectful in the debate.

    • Hey – in defense of JRH, if someone you don’t respect calls you a nasty name, you may not find it objectionable at all because you’re indifferent to what that person thinks. Dollar Bill, for instance, is always on these pages spewing his childish insults – does anyone care? I think not.

    • JRH

      Georgie, not shocked that nuance has gone over your head, but Mr. Birnbaum isn’t calling all of the opponents the “lunatic fringe,” just people like the ones whose comments CF had to block.

  14. Anyone who knows anything about the Town of Greenwich will recognize that such phrases as “residential character” and “too much traffic” are just smokescreens to hide the real issue. I’d bet the rent that if some acceptable Protestant denomination was interested in the same property, we would not be hearing all this crap! In fact, if that were the case, the neighbors might even send over a Welcome Wagon, which is something they certainly aren’t going to be doing if a Jewish Congregation moves in.

    • You would lose that bet, Judson – here in Greenwich every change is opposed and churches and schools are included. I’ve written before on this exact topic: yes, there is certainly some anti-Semitism in town, just as there is in so many towns around the world (close to home, drive up to Darien and count the synagogues – oops! There are none), but residents have fought Stanwich Congregational Church, Stanwich School (not affiliated with Stanwich Church), Brunswick School on King Street, Brunswick School expansion on Mahr Avenue, Greenwich Academy expansion, Greenwich Academy tennis court screening, a Block Buster on th Post Road in Cos Cob, a drive-in window at a dry cleaners in Cos Cob, a Chase bank on the corner of Rt. One and Dearfield in Greenwich proper, expansion of the A&P in the Thruway Shopping Center in Riverside, and on and on and on – I’ve only lived here since 1954 so I can’t tell you what the the first settlers were against – the English, come to think of it, and the Siwanoy’s were goddamned pissed to be wiped out by those same settlers.
      My point is, none of the projects I just mentioned had any connection with Jews – your knee-jerk charge of antiSemitism is as oversimplified and over broad as the anti-Semitic bigots themselves. There can be a civil discourse on the merits of this project – I happen to be neutral, leaning in favor of the synagogue, but no matter – if we can all stay calm, reason might just prevail.

      • JRH

        I think this is right. There’s no grounds for saying that the opposition to this is primarily motivated by anti-Semitism. But that doesn’t mean that ugly arguments can’t or won’t be made, or that we won’t be able to condemn those while letting legitimate arguments get a fair hearing.

  15. Hey

    I gre up in a suburb that had a reasonably large synagogue in it with a large parking lot, completely surrounded by houses. Friends backed onto it.

    It did seem out of scale to the area, but for a couple things – nearly everyone in that part of area was Jewish and while few went to the synagogue as it was conservadox verging on orthodox while most of the area were Reform High Holidays maybe Jews, it was a big selling point for all of the houses. Home buyers could tell the parents and grandparents that they’d bought a house in walking distance to a good, serious schul. Which is more of a concern if your more observant family (or at least keeping up appearances) may be helping with the purchase price.

    Not so much in Greenwich – you’re not impressing Bubbe with your observance, though perhaps with your bank account.. if you wanted to obviously be observant you’d be in Williamsburg/Brooklyn Heights/Crown Heights/New Square/some places in Joisey.

    From the sound of it, this is a bad place for a schul. Stevie’s hockey rink would be decent, but you still have the problem that everyone obviously has to drive in. If you’re doing a driveup, might as well be in a truly commercial area and not knocking down houses.

    As to anti-semitism/racism, etc. Seeing the reactions to different denominations and sitings – people love having a place of worship in their neighbourhood if it’s the one they go to or if it has a nearly extinct membership. A thriving church which draws most of its members from outside walking distance always draws problems from the surroundings. DC is going thorough this as some of its black churches go upper middle class but keep their buildings in the old neighbourhood. Streets get clogged, tempers get short, and race has got nothing to do with it since everyone’s the same range of hues. It looks worse when it’s new Heebs vs gentiles with an old reputation (justly earned at one point) or Chinese immigrants who’ve revived a building vs white who no longer go to church but still live next door, but it’s all the same reasonable motivation.

    The Synagogue developers could threaten to turn it into affordable housing, but it’s Cos Cob: Section 8 housing would be an upgrade for the area! Heyo!

  16. Trojan Horse

    CF: thanks for the inciteful commentary.

    I support residential development of 92-96 Orchard Street, which would include Section 8 housing. I live a few blocks away, and we chose to live here instead of getting stuck in traffic on Sound Beach Avenue. That being said, there are 11 (not 10) homeowners who would potentially abut a ginormous structure and parking lot, and we all feel their pain, which is why there are hundreds of families opposed to non-residential development at this site. A lot of us feel that Birnbaum has about zero credibility – after all, his organization “planned” (threatened) to build affordable housing on (gasp) Stanwich Road, so the fact he has publicly pulled back from statements about their original development size isn’t fooling anyone.

    It seems to me that we have a rich corporate entity which is exploiting its exemption from zoning laws, and is using funds from the sale of its 11.5 Stanwich Road acres to bulldoze and buy up a neighborhood piece by piece. I see this as a Trojan Horse issue – which started with their purchase of a lot on 0.8 acres in an area that is zoned in an area with 0.2 acre lots. Who the heck is going to want to live next to 24-hour security lighting and party tents? But there are plans for a school, daycare, a kitchen, and party (social) facilities….the economic collapse of these few blocks of a residential area is imminent. Neighbors will end up selling their land to GRS at bargain basement prices. I am sure GRS thought this through, but they grossly underestimated the public backlash which has nothing to do with religion.

    Frankly, GRS bought the land and has a right to build on it, but they really have given themselves a very public black eye in the process. They look like scheming land developers who don’t give a hoot about the neighborhood they buy up and bulldoze over.

    • The Jewrilla in da Mist

      For what it’s worth (tee hee) this is a mostly accurate portrayal of the situation with relatively minimal bias — but, please don’t think the GRS gang are disinterested in what the neighbors think. To the contrary.

      Trojan Horses are tools of war. Do you really think a bunch of Jews in Greenwich want to go to war with a neighborhood in the Cob? Especially the low-key, middle to upper middle class types in GRS. Sholom has your high-powered, moneyed, go to war types.

      What this summary doesn’t get right is what went on with the Stanwich School situation and the Section 8 “threat” was in response to other threats from the lovely folk of Stanwich School. Not going into it here. But please get the whole story.

      Meanwhile. There are those within GRS who are concerned about the “black eye” you mention, not to mention, concerned about being regarded with hostiity — whether that hostility is ethnically motivated or not. Some will probably leave over it.

      So we can go with “Hey look it’s the greedy Jews that ruined our neighborhood” or “Hey look it’s the greedy thoughtless developers of no particular religious orientation or ethnic background who ruined our neighborhood.”

      Speaking personally — I don’t want to ruin anyone’s neighborhood.

      Certainly the dozen abutting owners have every right to fight for the outcome they want, and if I were them I might be angry also.

      But again, if anyone will stand here and seriously suggest the collective opposition to this — the hundreds of additional voices of protest — are not motivated by things other than land use, well, get real.

      The public backlash does not have “nothing” to do with religion, that’s either a deliberate whitewash or just naive. Thou doth prostesteth too mucheth.

      Here since about ’73…so Chris has 20 probably worse (bias wise) years in town…but I think 40 years is enough experience to have a perspective.

      My point is really this — the fact that the broader motivation has an antisemitic component, does nothing to diminish the rights of the neighborhood itself to vigorously fight against a development it thinks it doesn’t want and won’t benefit from — whether it is right or wrong.

      But – let’s not bullshit ourselves about the bigger picture here.

      Greenwich in 2013 is less racist than Greenwich in 1983, 1973, or 1953…but it seems obvious the suspicions are still just below the surface.

  17. CF states that there is a history in Greenwich of opposing major building projects. That may be true, but what does that have to do with what’s going on in Cos Cob. I think a better analogy would be the Town’s fight to keep non-residents off its beaches, a fight the Town eventually lost, and deservably so!
    Anyway, this topic has certainly stirred up a lot of “chatter.” People are blogging about various things such as; who sold GRS the property and what was his motive; who failed to show their faces at a local communty festival; who called the opposition a lunatic fringe and what did he mean; what did the Town know about the project, when did it know and why was nothing said; blah blah blah. All of this is interesting to read, but it’s also distracting. People should look past these tangents, and maybe then they would see the true story. It isn’t difficult to figure out. The people opposed to the project do not want a Jewish house of worship in their neighborhood. Period!

  18. Trojan Horse

    Da Mist – I can’t really share your perspective on religious discrimination, other than to acknowledge that you have faced it in your lifetime. My immediate family is comprised of Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians, and also includes mixed race families. I spent Monday night eating latkes with the family of a close friend. I cannot speak for others, but I can assure you there is no race or religious discrimination of any kind here. Perhaps I project my non-descriminatory nature on others, which may be naive, and it appears to have annoyed you, from the tone of your post. Sarah Littman, the spokesperson for the community group opposed to GRS’s building plans, can give you a better perspective on the voiciferous community opposition, which as far as I know, was based on zoning law and neighborhood issues.

    I think Chris Fountain said it best in his post from December 11 at 9:55 pm., if you have time to read it.