Shul wins Fair Lawn approval to renovate

Shul wins Fair Lawn approval to renovate

Cong. Darchei Noam is moving up in the world.

After a year-long debate with the Fair Lawn planning board, the shul, which has been meeting in its president’s basement since its creation almost two years ago, has won approval to begin renovations on an Alexander Avenue home.

“We started looking for a building from the inception,” said Mark Moerdler, Darchei Noam’s executive vice president. “We knew a basement just wasn’t going to last.”

Fair Lawn’s Cong. Darchei Noam bought the house at 10-2 Alexander Ave. last year but did not win approval from the borough’s planning board until last month.

The Orthodox shul began meeting in president Nathan Bednarsh’s basement shortly after it formed in November 2006 with about 15 families. Darchei Noam now has a membership of 35 to 40 families who mostly belonged to Cong. Shomrei Torah but lived more than a mile away and wanted a closer option. The shul bought the home at 10-2 Alexander Ave. in July of 2007 but ran into roadblocks from the town’s planning board, which wanted to know how the synagogue would deal with parking and neighbors. The discussions took longer than expected, Moerdler said, but in the end most parties were satisfied.

“The problem is the parking rules are defined in such a way they are going to create a problem for any new house of worship,” Moerdler said. “You have one spot for every three seats in the building. If a synagogue has 100 seats, [it needs] 34 parking spots.”

Moerdler said Darchei Noam settled the issues with neighbors who were worried about excessive traffic and noise during the week. Because most of the members with children send them to day school, the shul will not have a Hebrew school. The board had not planned to offer childcare during the week either, Moerdler said.

“There are already facilities in Fair Lawn run by synagogues and Lubavitch,” he said. “There will obviously be capabilities to meet the needs of the membership when they come on Saturdays with their kids.”

To settle the parking issue, Darchei Noam consulted the Fair Lawn Board of Education and the nearby Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel, which is Conservative. Darchei Noam arranged to allow members to park at the high school on holidays or overnight on Shabbat, when the school is closed. During the week, members can use the parking lot at FLJC.

Peter Kortright, chair of Fair Lawn’s planning board, said Darchei Noam “demonstrated above and beyond with these parking agreements there were parking spaces available.”

“They really proved their case without a doubt,” he said. “The objectors didn’t show any evidence there was a problem.”

Kortright said that the shul’s leadership conducted a 24-hour study of the parking situation at FLJC to demonstrate it had enough parking to accommodate its own membership and Darchei Noam’s. Leaders also submitted the FLJC’s calendar of events to further demonstrate that there would be no conflicts with the parking.

“It made the board comfortable with this arrangement,” Kortright said.

The planning board did, however, place a growth limitation on the shul. The board would make annual inspections for the first five years to make sure the synagogue’s membership does not exceed a capacity of about 70 families.

Plans are now under way to begin renovating the house, a process Moerdler estimated would cost $200,000, which the shul is raising from its members. After the move, he said, the synagogue would look toward hiring a permanent rabbi. For now, Darchei Noam’s leadership wants to focus on growing Fair Lawn’s Orthodox community.

“Our location is ideal for new families moving in,” said Fred Samuel, a member of the shul’s executive committee. “We’re looking forward to having the community grow and having an Orthodox presence there.”

Eventually, Samuel said, Darchei Noam will offer daily services, classes for members, and a scholar-in-residence program. He hopes that Darchei Noam will be able to move into its new home in early 2009.

“We’re not going to complete all the work inside but at least we can start using the facility partially,” Samuel said.

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