During the second hearing over a proposed Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue, one witness may have refuted one of the two cases neighborhood opposition brought against the rabbi and his congregation.
The issue in question is if Rabbi Velvel Belinsky’s plans are compatible with a nearly decade-old development plan that called for single-family homes to be built on the property. Due to how the property was classified by a judge in 2006, the new plans don’t have to be compatible, according to testimony by a witness with
expertise in zoning regulations.
Belinsky aims to build a 4,000-square-foot building for the Ariel Jewish Center and Synagogue, a Chabad congregation for Russian Jews, in the 8400 block of Stevenson Road. The synagogue will have an 88-seat sanctuary, 22 parking spaces in the back, a social hall, a small kitchen and a basement with a classroom and office space.
The surrounding residential neighborhood is vehemently opposing the synagogue proposal with the help of three attorneys, two of which were hired by neighborhood families and the third being a resident. In addition to the issue of the previous development plan, the other case against
Belinsky is over residential transition areas. Known as RTAs, Baltimore County requires buffers to be put in place to blend a building in with its surroundings and make it less visible from the road.
While the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 allows religious institutions to locate in residential areas, in this case, neighbors would rather see houses built on the property than deal with the synagogue’s activity and traffic.
The first hearing on the cases, both being heard by Baltimore County Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen, took place in late June. The second hearing was held on Wednesday, Aug. 5 and a third on Wednesday, Aug. 12 (after The Jewish Times went to press).
At the second hearing, attorney Timothy Kotroco, who works on land use and zoning laws, spoke about the old development plan for the property and how that plan informs what Belinsky needs to do to develop there. Kotroco spent nearly 25 years in Baltimore County government working in several capacitiesincluding in the county attorney’s office, as deputy zoning commissioner, as director of permits and development management and as an administrative law judge, and worked on cases not unlike this one, he said.
Kotroco reviewed prior hearings related to the property and explained that in 2006 the judge that oversaw the case involving the subdivision of the property designated it a small tract subdivision. That 2006 designation made the property exempt from certain zoning regulations, which meant that amendments to the development plan did not need to be “consistent with the spirit and intent of the original plan.” The basis of one of the opposition’s cases is that it is inconsistent with the original plan.
J. Carroll Holzer, an attorney working on behalf of neighborhood residents, and Herbert Burgunder, Belinsky’s attorney, declined to comment on Kotroco’s testimony as the case is ongoing.
More than 100 people attended the first hearing, many of whom wore red T-shirts that said “Friends of Stevenson Road, Protecting Our Neighborhood.” More than 50 attended the second hearing, many wearing the same shirts.
In previous interviews with the JT, Belinsky’s congregants recounted how difficult it was to exercise religion in Soviet Russia and how Belinsky has taught them about Jewish traditions, holidays and history. The congregation currently operates out of Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan’s space on Old Pimlico Road.
Residents opposed to the construction of a synagogue are worried about traffic and pedestrian safety, and many contend they would rather see houses built on the property.
Another hearing will take place in September.