2010-08-26 / Front Page

Home synagogue will appeal

Oak Park Chabad still wants to expand
By Sylvie Belmond belmond@theacorn.com

Leaders of the Oak Park Chabad still hope to expand operations at their neighborhood synagogue on Conifer Street.

The religious organization has filed an appeal asking the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to overturn a July 29 planning commission decision that denied the Chabad permission to increase attendance at its Oak Park shtibl, or neighborhood synagogue.

Chabad has operated the synagogue inside a 4,000-square-foot single-family home since 1994. The converted home retains a residential look outside, but was modified inside to accommodate religious activities.

During hearings at the Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council this spring, some neighbors strongly opposed the expansion request, stating that the extra noise and traffic on neighborhood streets had become a nuisance.

Last month the county planning commission voted to limit the maximum occupancy within the synagogue to 70 people for services and special events and to 10 at all other times.

The commission also declined a variance request that would have allowed Chabad to keep a 750-square-foot patio enclosure that was built without a permit about three years ago and backs up within a few feet of other private property.

In its recent appeal, Chabad repeated its request to increase occupancy from 70 to 145 people for Saturday services and special holiday events.

“The 145 capacity is permissible per fire department occupancy regulations,” said Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, synagogue director.

“We deserve to be able to have as many as can safely pray there; it’s our right to do that,” Bistritzky said.

Chabad also wants to increase attendance from 10 to 25 for Sunday morning men’s fellowship breakfasts.

Concerning the illegal patio enclosure, Chabad officials said they will remove the structure.

Chabad, which paid $2,000 to file the appeal, said it accepts all other conditions set by the planning commission, including one that requires congregants to park at the nearby Oak Park Unified School District headquarters rather than on public streets.

The board of supervisors’ hearing has not been scheduled and is unlikely to occur until October.

“We look forward to having this behind us,” Bistritzky said.

Supervisor Linda Parks said she will give serious consideration to both sides of the issue.

“The planning commission gave a lot of thought to their recent decision to deny the expansion of the Chabad. I’ll carefully review their decision, the evidence provided and, of course, listen to any testimony when it comes before me at the board,” Parks said.

Lenore Lewis, one of the neighbors who opposes the Chabad’s growth plans, said residents are “pleased with the planning commission’s unanimous decision and respect the appeal process.”

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