Etz Chaim zoning struggle continues in Teaneck

Etz Chaim zoning struggle continues in Teaneck

The Teaneck Zoning Board continued to hear testimony last week as part of a series of meetings to decide the fate of fledgling synagogue Etz Chaim on Queen Anne Road.

The hearings are the culmination of a two-year struggle for the self-identified “nonprofit organization that provides religious and community activities and counseling,” according to testimony last month by the organization’s president, Robert Erlich. The organization has applied for several variances from the zoning board, which would allow Etz Chaim to designate part of the Queen Anne Road property as a house of worship.

In addition, the organization has asked for variances that would excuse it from certain regulations, such as a required number of parking spaces. Under zoning regulations, a singe-family residence zone may be used on a conditional basis as a house of worship.

The board heard testimony from Etz Chaim’s architect and planning consultants last week. Questions focused on plans for the renovation to include six “stacked” parking spots, which would result in cars being blocked in the driveway. Regulations require 21 spots for a house of worship, and Etz Chaim has asked for a variance for the remaining 15. Erlich last month presented a list of neighbors, including the CVS at 375 Queen Anne Road, who had agreed to provide additional parking.

According to the planning and zoning analysis prepared by the Wyckoff firm Kauker & Kauker, Etz Chaim “would not have a negative impact on the surrounding area or Township.”

Michael Kauker, the principal planner, however, was unable to answer questions regarding the impact of traffic from weekday morning services, when members are permitted to drive. According to his testimony, he was aware only of Etz Chaim’s plans to meet Friday nights and Saturdays, when driving was more unlikely because of the group’s Orthodox affiliation.

Etz Chaim purchased the property at 554 Queen Anne Road in October 2007, shortly after incorporation as 554 Queen Anne Road Inc. Later that year, the group employed and rented the property to Rabbi Daniel Feldman. According to Erlich’s testimony, Feldman “provides pastoral counseling, religious law advice.” What has drawn the ire of neighbors is that soon after purchasing the property, Etz Chaim created a family-room addition to the house and “gave the rabbi permission to use that family room at his discretion for prayer services on the Jewish Sabbath and Jewish holidays,” Erlich said.

In November 2007, a group of neighbors submitted a petition with 78 signatures to the township, protesting the renovation and alleging that Etz Chaim had been using the addition as a house of worship, without filing the appropriate permit for the change in zoning.

Teaneck zoning official Steven M. Gluck issued a cease-and-desist order in August 2008, which Etz Chaim appealed. Gluck suggested the organization seek out the appropriate variances that would allow it to continue holding religious services.

“We filed the application for variances tonight in order to become a house of worship because of complexities that the town feels are present relating to our use … of the family room and the residence for private prayer services,” Erlich testified to the board last month.

The board tabled the hearing until next month.

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