Many Lawrence residents who live around spoke out against its request to subdivide its large front lawn at Wednesday night’s village board of zoning appeals meeting.
“Each variance is extreme, especially since the applicant is not willing to commit to a use [for the land],” said Howard Avrutine, an attorney representing Bernard and Hannah Fuchs, who live next to the temple. “The big problem here is the uncertainty.”
The board voted to continue the hearing on Feb. 16.
The subdivision hearing comes after years of attempts by Temple Israel officials to sell off the large green space in front of the temple. This transaction would allow Temple Israel — the last remaining reform synagogue in the Five Towns — to stay in the area after its membership dropped significantly over the decades, temple officials say.
James Rotenberg, president of Temple Israel, said its trustees considered selling the entire temple and moving, but would rather stay in Lawrence.
“That sanctuary not only represents a place of prayer, but memories of the past,” he said. “We really ask you to help us out because we want to stay in this community.”
Rotenberg said that a recent appraisal estimated that the land is worth about $1.265 million, which would sustain the temple for a minimum of 10 years.
“There are simply not enough members to continue the way it is now,” said Garrett Gray, Temple Israel’s attorney and a past president. “The front lawn, while aesthetically pleasing, is not utilized by the temple. The temple is looking for a significant source of income. We think this piece is valuable enough that we’re here before you today.”
About six years ago, the temple tried to work out a deal with the (which leases space from the synagogue) that would have had it buy the land for a new center, but that plan was met with resistance by the . So was a to sell the land to , whose trustees recently backed out of a letter of intent with the temple after they wrote it was clear the community did not support the proposal.
Last year, Temple Israel officials claimed the village was purposely preventing it from selling off the land when village officials would not issue a denial letter — which would allow the case to come to the BZA — to its subdivision request. The temple the village in response. The denial letter was finally issued after numerous revisions from the temple.
Zoning appeals chairman Lloyd Keilson said that it’s “evident the community doesn’t want institutions at the site,” and he and other board members signaled they’d be more open to the subdivision if the temple sold it for residential use.
Many of the community members who spoke out against the subdivision request said they’re uncomfortable with the development possibilities on the lot.
“We think any type of structure would affect the aesthetics of the temple,” said Joel Yarmak, who lives across the street from the synagogue and represents some 200 residents who signed a petition against the subdivision. “We don’t want you to grant a variance until we know what they want to do with the property.”