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Friday, April 29, 2011

Temple Says ‘Let There Be Light,’ Neighbors Say ‘No’

By James Lomuscio

Rabbi Robert Orkand insisted it was a matter of nighttime safety for congregants at Westport’s Temple Israel. Neighbors countered that it would be an unnecessary intrusion on their quality of life that would hurt real estate values.

At issue for more than three hours tonight before the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission—the installation of light posts in the temple’s rear parking lots on Coleytown Road.

The commission heard conflicting and at times emotional reports that pitted neighbor against house of worship, rabbi against congregant, and one side’s lighting consultant against the other.

After a 20-minute recess both sides agreed to continue the public hearing, which had been applied for back in December, to May 19 so that they could find common ground. P&Z member Michael Kraweic had originally suggested the extension.

“I wouldn’t mind leaving this open and letting them try to sit down and figure this out because someone is going to lose, and there may be somewhere in the middle,” said Kraweic.

Temple officials have wanted to install the lights for several years, as many as 34, 10-foot high posts, because the back, unpaved parking area has a rough terrain that can be precarious when unlit.

“We have had members of our congregation fall in that parking lot,” said Orkand. “What kind of injuries do our people have to endure before you believe the lighting is unsafe?”

Orkand told the P&Z that Temple Israel has been on the Coleytown Road site since 1958, long before the homes were built in the 1980s, and that neighbors should have had “an expectation that our parking lot would be lit.”

“We have planted trees so high, I cannot see homes or lighting of neighbors,” he said. “We have done everything. Still our neighbors object which leads me to believe they object simply because they can. For five years we have been dealing with this issue.”

Steven Rucker, whose Meadow View Drive home abuts the rear lot, and who is one of Temple Israel’s 850 members, took issue with Orkand’s comments, calling them “hurtful.”

“To suggest the neighbors are not interested in safety is silly,” Rucker said. “What we are interested in is fairness.”

The rear parking area used to be a meadow, he said, and as the temple expanded over the years, it was agreed that that “they would apply ushers on high holy days” to escort people to their cars in the dark.

“I have never observed an usher in the parking lot,” he said, adding that the current lighting has existed since 2001, and there have been “no incidents of falls.”

“The temple hasn’t met any of their burdens to prove that this is a dangerous situation,” Rucker added. ” ...We believe it will significantly impact our enjoyment and home values taking a pristine meadow and putting up all these poles.

“You are creating a commercial look in a residential area. The rabbi always talks about community. Why does he fail to realize that he lives in a community?”

Attorney John Albright presented the application on behalf of Temple Israel, and Joseph Carnevale, a lighting consultant, explained that there would be no spillage of light past the property lines. The new lighting system also would be computerized, so that lights would not remain on all night.

Sandy Silverstein, executive director of Temple Israel, explained that under the current system, timer pins for the lights can sometimes loosen, and he has to manually replace them to to turn the lights off.

“Going to new system,  all of the controls will be united on one system, and all the existing time clocks will be retired,” Silverstein said.

Melvin Barr, a Westport land use consultant, spoke in support of the temple’s lighting plan, noting that it is nearly 400 feet from the front door to the farthest parking space.

“These improvement are trying to prevent or at least minimize the risk of future accidents,” Barr said.

Janet Mittleman, a past president of the temple, called the current situation, “an accident waiting to happen,” and said that parents have expressed concerns for their children’s safety.

“One option would be to get flashlights to hand out to all members on their way out,” said congregant Brian Sobelman, adding that it would be a way to “minimize broken hips and lawsuits.”

“But, is that the standard you’d want to set for houses of worship in Westport?” he asked.

On the other side, Patricia Fleischmann, a Meadow View Drive resident since 1985, stressed, “this would have a very negative impact on our neighborhood and property values.”

“They said the meadow would stay a meadow and it woudln’t change,” she said. “They did a 13,00-square-foot addition, and now they’re talking about 34 lights. It’s a very commercial look in a residential area. That’s why we wanted an alternative plan.”

Present at the hearing was Leo Smith, the neighbors’ lighting consultant, who proposed increasing the lights on the posts in the front lots so that it would afford enough illumination to the rear lots without any lighting trespass past the property line.

At the end of the hearing, Albright agreed to talk to the neighbors to try to find a compromise before the P&Z hears it again on May 19.


Posted 04/29/11 at 03:36 AM  Permalink


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Interesting comments.  I guess there are members of our community who would rather rah, rah a football field with lights (ignoring neighbors, etc.) than a prayer and service to God

Posted by Carole Donenfeld on April 29, 2011 at 02:58 PM | #

Good God ! Common sense, civility and love thy neighbor have moved out of Westport.  Albeit occasional lights at Staples or Bedford, lights at the synagogue occasionally at night, or a kids swing set in the backyard, they all pale as “problems”  in contrast to serious issues everywhere else in the UNIVERSE !  The sweet sound of a cheering athletic crowd, a light inviting a congregation to hear cantor, or the giggles of kids swinging are blessings that we in Westport should embrace and enjoy rather than considering them fodder for our local lawyers !  “Lighten” up people and wise up P and Z !

Posted by chip stephens on May 02, 2011 at 07:58 PM | #

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