Neighbors ‘not opposing religious freedom’

Neighbors ‘not opposing religious freedom’

We live adjacent to the new synagogue on Queen Anne Road and need to explain some facts that The Jewish Standard chose not to print. In May and December of 2006, we received certified letters announcing that a “synagogue center” was being planned for the combined properties of 554 and 576 Queen Anne Road. We were informed that the synagogue would be built in phases, starting first with one property and then expanding to include another. These letters concerned us not just because of the change of use but because we had been having problems with the owner of 576 since 2004. In May 2004, the owner of 576 had his lawyer, Joel Glucksman, send us a letter threatening to sue us for tearing down his fence. That claim was absolutely false. In September 2005 the owner of 576 sent e-mails stating that we and another neighbor should sell our homes to him because a synagogue was going to be built at the property and that it was in our interest to sell “before the block goes to hell.” For several years, the owner of 576 illegally used that property as a business while no one lived in the house. He received summonses and agreed to remove the businesses by the end of August 2006 but he didn’t comply. In December 2006 he invited a group to use 576 for synagogue services. The township issued more summonses to the owner of 576 and the Teaneck municipal judge called the behavior “outrageous.”

Last fall, we learned that a newly formed congregation (including the people who had held services at 576), called Etz Chaim, was buying 554. Etz Chaim leaders were made aware of the controversy in the neighborhood but they decided to buy the house and to add an extension (just a few feet away from our house). They filed permit applications with the town that show the extension would double the footprint of the house and would be 1,500 square feet. They signed a certification with their application, attesting that the complete and accurate use of the extension was for a “family room.” Although they called this project the “Feldman Residence,” the architect’s specification documents identified the computer file as “Teaneck Temple.” No one from Etz Chaim felt the need to consult with neighbors about the construction of this “family room” and what now exists next to our house is a large trailer-looking box, built on the cheap, that does not match the house to which it is attached. Congregants from Etz Chaim could have held services in their own houses or altered their houses but chose not to.

The owner of 576 seems to be playing an active role in the efforts at 554. In April 2008, a workshop was set up in 576 and for at least two weeks synagogue furniture was built and brought to Etz Chaim. The owner of 576 opened the fence between 554 and 576 enabling workers to freely go between the two properties. The opening has also allowed the synagogue to use the yard at 576 as a playground and as a place to socialize for adults. As the Standard reported, the owner’s lawyer, Mr. Glucksman, is Etz Chaim’s lawyer.

The neighbors are not opposing religious freedom. What we are asking is that the law be followed and that neighbors be part of the process about any attempt to create a house of worship at the property.