FAIR LAWN The sounds of whistles, horns, and sneakers streaking across hardwood floors will continue to emanate from the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel at least until Jan. 14.
The International Youth Basketball league, which rents the center’s gymnasium several nights a week, is at the core of the continuing fight between the center, at the corner of Walsh Place and Norma Avenue, and neighbors incensed about the resulting noise.
Windows of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel face Walsh Place, between Norma and Alexander avenues. Photo by KEN HILFMAN
The complaints resulted in a September cease-and-desist order from the borough’s assistant zoning officer, Ann Peck, who deemed the basketball league a for-profit corporation to which the center cannot legally rent its space. The center filed an appeal and after mediation broke down last month, its representatives appeared at a zoning board hearing last week. After testimony on behalf of the FLJC, the commission tabled the hearing until Jan. 14, when representatives of the shul’s neighbors will make their case.
Borough Manager Tom Metzler had tried to mediate a settlement between the two sides last month, but talks broke down, leaving the center’s fate in the hands of the zoning commission.
"All parties agreed that was the direction they wanted to go," Metzler said Tuesday. The borough no longer has a say in the matter, he said, noting that the zoning board is an autonomous entity.
The center and some of its neighbors have retained legal counsel to represent them in the hearings.
Marcia Minuskin and her husband, Jeffrey Zonenshine, who live across the street, don’t think lawyers should be necessary.
"I don’t see this as a black and white issue," Minuskin said. "The neighbors would like to allow the Jewish center to rent out the gym so that it can get the income that they need, but I would like them to make an effort to reduce the noise and the problems so the neighborhood remains quiet."
The wall of the gym is lined with windows, which are often open during play, allowing the noise to fill the entire neighborhood, neighbors allege. Minuskin had suggested to center leaders that they brick up the windows.
The noise began four years ago, but neighbors were wary of taking action against the synagogue, said Ann Brodsky, who lives across the street. They are no longer able to enjoy their neighborhood, said Brodsky, who, with her husband Ilya, has hired a lawyer to represent her case to the zoning board.
"No one is contesting the center has a right to use the gym," said Brodsky. "The noise is effectively broadcast outside. It’s like a soundtrack from a sports arena. Clearly this type of use is not the type of recreational sports activity that one would expect."
Jeffrey Herrmann of the law firm Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf, which is representing the center in the hearings, told The Jewish Standard on Monday that proving that IYB is a non-profit organization is only part of his task. The main issue is whether the basketball now taking place is a permitted use of the facility.
The zoning ordinance permits "accessory uses" of the facility that include activities that are not part of the main use of the building but play a role in furthering its goals, Herrmann said. For example, a commercial parking lot in a residential neighborhood would not be permitted, but the center is allowed a parking lot because it benefits the synagogue.
"Having athletic activities is part of the goal of the synagogue," he said, "because the synagogue is a house of worship but also a house of study and a house of community."
During last week’s hearing, Simon Glustrom, rabbi emeritus, and FLJC’s past president Leonard Kaufmann argued that basketball has taken place in the center for years without complaints.
Brodsky disagreed, arguing that the frequency and competitive nature of the league is different from a synagogue league or casual games of the past.
"The [center’s] representative took great pains [to state] that basketball has always been played," Brodsky said. "My contention is that until four years ago, it was not basketball of this nature. The resulting noise has led us to this point."