At Tuesday’s lengthy P&Z meeting, the commission discussed a request by Chabad Lubavitch for a permit for a 40 x 40 tent for more than 14 days behind their building at 6 Lincoln.
Currently, Chabad’s two buildings at 75 Mason Street and 6 Lincoln Ave are for sale as a development site and the preschool has been moved from 6 Lincoln to Lake Avenue.
Right off the bat, P&Z president Margarita Alban questioned Chabad attorney Tom Heagney about the fact that the tent had already been erected earlier in the day.
“I’ve heard from a number of city officials over the past few hours,” Heagney said. “There was a misunderstanding, a misunderstanding. They jumped the gun and I had spoken to the rabbi and the tent is being removed. If it hasn’t already been removed, it will be tomorrow morning.
Mr. Heagney explained that earlier in the day Chabad had applied for a permit with P&Z staff for a tent for a special event, but it had not yet been processed.
He said the idea was to get the two-week special event permit and then apply for a six-month permit.
Chabad plans to hold tent services on Saturdays and a religious school on Sundays.
“It’s driven by the pandemic,” Heagney explained, noting that he was aware that the governor’s emergency executive powers were set to expire on Feb. 15, 2022.
Yet, he said, “people attending services are not comfortable inside. … We all hope it won’t be more than 6 months, but we’re looking for protection from the elements during that time.
“You legally have a problem after 6 months because you are no longer a temporary structure,” Alban said. “You can’t leave for more than six months.”
Mr Heagney recalled how the rowing club on River Road in Cos cob was approved for a tent while a building was under construction and it was approved by staff rather than the commission.
“I knew we were going to regret it,” Alban said. “I was really uncomfortable that we ended up with tents lingering.”
Heagney said Chabad Preschool is no longer operating at 6 Lincoln. Currently, it operates until June at 270 Lake Avenue under an agreement with Carmel Academy. Recently, Chabad was the contractual buyer of this property, but it fell through. The new buyer of the property is Alan Breed.
Heagney noted that a kindergarten was permitted in use group 4 in the CGB zone and that religious uses are also in use group 4.
In fact, he said there was no activity inside the building at 6 Lincoln.
Noting a suggestion made during the previous day’s staff briefing that Chabad hold events in the parking lot at 75 Mason Street, Mr. Heagney said the parking lot at 6 Lincoln felt safer and more secure.
“It’s more protected and secluded behind the building in Lincoln, whereas it’s very open (at 75 Mason). And there are security issues,” he said.
Commissioner Peter Lowe asked if the parking requirement was suspended during a period when the building was not in use? “How it works?” He asked.
“We would have provided that (the approval for a temporary tent) is based on the use of daycare/school that is not in progress,” Alban said.
Commissioner Nick Macri said he understood that while the tent was erected the building could not be used for any activity.
The building includes classrooms, offices and an apartment.
Ms Alban said it would be a condition that if kindergarten resumes at 6 Lincoln, the tent should come down.
Mr. Heagney also gave the example of a tent permitted for an extended period at Harvest Time Church on King Street when it was under construction in a residential area. He said the church received a special exception from the Zoning Board of Appeals for a bubble in the parking lot on a temporary basis. It was understood that they would limit the number of occupants for each service to reflect the reduction in parking.
“We come here saying this is for temporary use and we are suspending preschool while this is happening,” Heagney said, adding that the 4 spaces + 1 ADA space in the back of 6 Lincoln are put out of action. , worshipers would use the 17 spaces + 1 ADA space at 75 Mason.
“There is no use at 75 Mason Street on Saturdays or Sundays,” Heagney said.
With respect to the ADA parking space behind 6 Lincoln, the applicant has agreed to mark the pavement in the driveway to relocate this space temporarily.
Ms. DeLuca said there have been discussions at the Department of Parking Services about extending the hours that Lincoln Ave is restricted to residential parking from Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are no restrictions on who parks on Lincoln on weekends.
“Is this going to impact the operation on these two properties,” she asked.
Mr Heagney said that would not be the case as the tent was only intended for weekend use.
Ms. Alban said she did not believe that approval to change usage in usage group 4 was automatic, especially since the number of people attending services and Hebrew school under the tent could be greater than the number of preschool enrollments.
Mr Heagney said 25 people would attend Saturday services and 15-20 children, plus 4 staff members would attend Sunday school.
In public comments, Francia Alvarez said she was concerned about security, recalling the eight years she worked on Mason Street with an office overlooking Chabad. “I sat there and watched the children. Parents brought their children to the outdoor play area for preschool and often the children’s parents did not pay attention. There were cars coming and going, and a few times the kids ran out of the playground and ended up walking down the street.
“My experience was kind of freaked out a few times,” she added.
Marius Olszewski of 18 Lincoln Avenue said holding church services in the parking lot was problematic from his perspective as a neighbor.
“Unfortunately what’s happening is there’s a church service 12 or 14 feet from our property. We wouldn’t want to be disrespectful, by any means. But because of that, we can’t all just not using our backyard.
“There are a lot of people and we hear almost everything that is said. Our gardener can’t come. We ask the military not to come to our house on Saturday morning because there are services there,” he added.
“Parking is a huge problem on Lincoln Ave and traffic on Lincoln has gotten worse over the years. To say that because it is the weekend that traffic will not be impacted by activity is simply not true,” Olszewski continued. “Any activity over the weekend at this property will impact both traffic and the street parking situation.”
Tiffany Costanzo, who lives next door to Chabad at 14 Lincoln, said she supported the bid.
“They use it for Saturday and Sunday church services,” she said. “From our point of view, we haven’t had any problems, but when there are problems, I have been able to go to Maryashie (Deren).”
Commissioner M. Macri asked: “They are already performing services on the site at 6 (Lincoln)?
“They haven’t done it in a while, but they were doing it during the pandemic, yeah,” she said.
” Under a tent ? He asked.
“There are tents there sometimes, yes,” Costanzo said. “A smaller tent than the one currently up there.”
During the discussion, the commissioners explained that if the tent was left standing beyond 6 months, it would be considered a permanent structure.
Accordingly, if the commission were to extend the permit beyond six months, the applicant would have to dismantle the tent and reassemble it.
The commissioners asked Mr. Heagney if Chabad would take down the tent if the pandemic were to lift before three or four months.
“I’m hopeful that after six months or less Chabad will no longer need this tent,” Heagney said.
“The risk of a pandemic has all but disappeared,” Commissioner Peter Levy said. “There is no longer a public emergency, so it is not about that. It’s just not official yet.
Ms. DeLuca asked if there might be a time when the building would become usable again while the tent was still in use.
Mr. Heagney said that would not happen.
Everyone agreed that the reason the tent was approved was concerns over Covid, that the governor’s emergency executive powers expire on February 15.
The 40 x 40 foot tent was authorized for 6 Lincoln Ave under the following conditions:
The tent is due down June 1, reflecting a total of 4 months of use.
After 4 months, the applicant must return to the commission to request a renewal, if necessary.
There will be no use of the tent on weekdays.
The tent is to be used on Saturdays for religious services with a maximum of 25 people and on Sundays for religious education for 15-20 students and 4 staff members.
The Lincoln Avenue building will remain vacant while the tent is in place.
There will be no amplified music or sound system used in the tent.
There will be no simultaneous use between 75 Mason and 6 Lincoln.
Chabad will create a temporary ADA compliant parking spot in the existing driveway at 6 Lincoln.
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