A menorah stands outside the Chabad of Towson at 14 Aigburth Road. A $2 million expansion is planned for the house. (Photo by Steve Ruark, Baltimore Sun Media Group / August 1, 2014)

The Aigburth Manor Association of Towson recently formed a three-person committee to serve as the liaison with the Chabad of Towson, at 14 Aigburth Road, as it undergoes an expansion.

"We are moving ahead with the project. We are meeting with the builder and architect," said Rabbi Mendy Rivkin, the Towson Chabad rabbi since the facility, formerly called the Chabad Jewish Center at Towson and Goucher, opened in 2008.

Members of the committee are Paul Hartman, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations and vice president of Aigburth Manor; and Devin Leary and David Zoll, Aigburth Manor members.

All are neighbors of Chabad and their goal, said Zoll, "is to keep apprised of the situation."

Said Leary, "We're waiting for the rabbi to come back with a proposal of what he is planning to do."

A June 17 Towson Times article about the expansion kicked off flurry of concern in the neighborhood, with some people saying they were unaware of the planned expansion.

"The first time I heard about it was in the Towson Times article," said Florence Newman, a retired Towson University faculty member. "It seemed to come as a surprise to others in the neighborhood, and there was concern about the size of the building described in the article."

The existing Chabad facility is situated in a 2,200-square foot, two-story house set back on the lot. The facility is used for programs and as the Rivkin family's home. In the article, Rivkin talked about an addition that would be used for programming, allowing the existing facility to serve as a residence only.

At the time, Rivkin said he was awaiting the final design but indicated a $2 million budget for an addition that could vary in size from 3,500- to 6,000-square feet. Rivkin is still waiting for final specifications and has no further details about the project, but said that the article "was not inaccurate."

Rivkin also expressed surprise that the neighbors were surprised. "This didn't come out of the blue. I've been talking about the expansion for a year," he said.

Indeed, Zoll, who lives next door to the Chabad facility, said the rabbi did talk about an expansion a year ago. But Zoll said he thought the matter would be brought before the community association more formally.

Hartman said that he talked with the rabbi in May about the planned expansion.

"I did relay that to members of the Aigburth Manor Association of Towson. Maybe I may not have expressed urgency (about the project) — that it was imminent. 

"Not much happened until the Towson Times article appeared. When it appeared it was done deal," Hartman said.

Regardless, Rivkin and over a dozen community members met in front of the Chabad facility in mid-June. 5th District County Councilman David Marks initiated the meeting, at which time the three-person committee was formed.

"I recall the rabbi saying that he had preliminary conversations with the neighbors, but there was no rendering, no plan finalized then," Marks said. "I asked the residents to form a smaller group and we are waiting to receive more detailed plans from the rabbi."

Like other religious institutions, a Chabad expansion would be permitted in a residential neighborhood but it would have to meet certain zoning regulations related to parking and setbacks.

"Use would be permitted but actual development would be governed by regulations," Marks said.

To date, as far as the committee knows, Chabad has not applied for permits or received any county approval.

"No one has an objection to the services the rabbi has been providing. That is not the issue. It's the scope of the expansion — how big will it be, how will it affect the community visually and for traffic," said Hartman.

"We are not trying to stop the process," Hartman said. "We can't take a position one way or another until we know more about it."