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Synagogue Sues After Greenwich, Conn. Rejects House Of Worship Plans

Sketch of proposed Greenwich Reform Synagogue (credit: Greenwich Reform Synagogue)

Sketch of proposed Greenwich Reform Synagogue (credit: Greenwich Reform Synagogue)

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Connecticut synagogue filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday, alleging the Town of Greenwich violated its civil rights and made a discriminatory decision by denying its plan to build a house of worship.

The Greenwich Reform Synagogue on Monday sued the wealthy town and its Planning and Zoning Board of Appeals, accusing officials of discrimination on the basis of religion.

Nearly a year ago, the synagogue filed plans with the Greenwich Town Hall to construct a building in the Cos Cob neighborhood. The 2.5-story building was to include a sanctuary, classrooms and offices as well as 48 parking spots.

But the Planning and Zoning Board of Appeals voted 2-2 last month, with one abstention, to deny the congregation’s application to build a $6 million, 12,000-square-foot synagogue.

The lawsuit accused the town of unequal treatment compared to other places of worship in the same area and within residential zoning districts. The synagogue said it made many changes, including reducing the size of the building and use of a police officer and shuttle bus during high holy days, to address neighbors’ and town concerns.

An objection by one official that the synagogue would change the characteristic of the neighborhood and cause traffic problems and another who cited its “mass” and “presence” were false and discriminatory, the lawsuit alleges.

“The `characteristics’ of the immediate neighborhood already includes two other Christian places of worship and a large school, and the meeting place of a third Christian congregation,” the lawsuit said, noting that many homes in Greenwich exceed 10,000 square feet.

Telephone messages left by The Associated Press for a town attorney were not immediately returned.

No other house of worship has ever been denied a special exception because it would change the characteristics of a neighborhood, according to the lawsuit. In 2002, zoning officials rejected such an argument by neighbors over a new congregational church building, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit seeks damages and a reversal of the denial.

The congregation, which has been conducting services in rented churches and members’ homes, said it has about 120 families and is significantly different in its beliefs and practices than two other Jewish facilities in Greenwich. The congregation said many parcels were unaffordable in the wealthy town and some offers at the listed price were refused.

The proposed synagogue complied with zoning regulations and studies found it would not create a negative traffic impact, the lawsuit said.

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