By Sallie James
They say three times is a charm. But in the case of Chabad of East Boca Raton, it was actually more.
After four hours of lengthy discussion, City Council members late July 28 voted 5-0 in favor of the ambitious beachside orthodox synagogue. The project was up for reconsideration because two appeals challenging the Planning and Zoning Board’s site plan approval had been filed by unhappy neighborhood groups.
“We are very appreciative and very elated that the Council affirmed its previous approval. We look forward to moving forward from here,” said a smiling Rabbi Ruvi New, as he clasped hands with joyous congregants.
Council members voted to affirm the previously approved site plan with a modification to ensure the project has adequate handicap parking. The synagogue is planned for 770 E. Palmetto Park Road.
“In Jewish law, when something occurs three times it sets a precedent,” New said. “We were confident that the precedent would stand.”
Both appeals claimed the Planning and Zoning Board’s approval of the synagogue’s site plan had been done without careful consideration of all the facts.
New concedes the fierce opposition to the project has been much more than he ever expected.
“Obviously it’s a more scenic route than we anticipated,” New said. “The point is, we are on a route and we do have a destination and we are going to get there, God willing.”
Residents who live in the neighborhoods on the barrier island near the proposed synagogue say it is too ambitious, will draw too much traffic and create parking issues on the 0.84-acre piece of property.
“This is absolutely tearing my neighborhood apart,” said resident Linda Sheridan, who lives nearby at 710 Marble Way, and supports the project. “I am just very saddened by this. I keep hearing the term injurious. Prolonging this is actually injurious.”
Proponents have claimed the property is perfect for the proposed 18,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art synagogue and world-class, interactive Israel museum and believe the project will increase nearby property values.
However, an attorney speaking on behalf of one of the groups of homeowners opposed to the synagogue said too many questions had been raised about the project’s compliance with city code to move forward. He urged Council members to send the project back to the Planning and Zoning Board for clarification.
“We are not going to solve it by people getting up and saying, ‘I am in favor,’ or ‘I object.’ The question is what is right,” said Attorney Arthur C. Koski. “I urge you to just step back, look at things with a clear eye and ask yourself is this project in its current form appropriately sited at this location.”
He warned, “Act prudently. It is of no harm to send this back to the Planning and Zoning board. This is irreversible.”
The project last came before the city on May 27 when Council members voted 4-1 to allow the synagogue’s height to exceed by 20 inches a maximum allowed height of 30 feet.
Opponents insist that such a facility is too intense of a use for the site and will drive extra traffic into an already congested area that is also critically affected by the ups and downs of the Palmetto Park Road drawbridge. The height of 40 feet, 8 inches will be intrusive, they claim.
One appeal claimed the city rendered its decision based on “improper and erroneous interpretations” of the city code that were made “arbitrarily and without reasonable analysis” of requests by residents who live near the project.
Many homeowners worry that the city’s approval of the project’s increased height will set a precedent for future even taller developments, which could ruin the ambiance of the area.
A second appeal, filed by Royal Palm Real Estate Holdings LLC, Royal Palm Properties LLC and David W. Roberts, claimed similar issues.
The proposed synagogue is slated to have a 156-seat sanctuary, a basement parking area with 56 spaces and a 25-space ground-level lot. In addition, the project would have a social hall and a high-tech Israel museum.
The path to approval has been a contentious back-and-forth that has gone on for months.
A site plan for the project was first recommended for approval by the city’s Planning and Zoning Board on March 19.
But after City Council members reviewed the plans on April 14, they sent the project back to the Planning and Zoning Board with questions about how the square footage was calculated.
The Planning and Zoning Board reconsidered the project on May 7 after receiving clarifications to the technical questions, and again recommended approval, sending it back to the City Council a second time. Council members approved the higher-than-normal height on May 27, and were then faced with the two appeals.