Deal will let synagogue build condos


A five-year zoning battle over a synagogue's plans to build housing in Pikesville ended this week with an unusual toast with kosher wine and the breaking of challah to bring peace in the predominantly Jewish community.

The dispute between community residents and Beth Tfiloh Synagogue ended in the County Council's library Monday evening with the signing of an unusual restrictive covenant between the synagogue and the community.

The deal, negotiated during the last year, was brokered by County Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, who will recommend on Oct. 10 that the council approve zoning to allow 72 condominiums on 7 acres in the back of Beth Tfiloh's property.

"It went down to the 11th hour, the 59th minute," Kamenetz said of the final agreement, which was signed by six community groups and several neighboring property owners after nearly two hours of last-minute debate.

During the year of negotiation, "every bush was debated, every tree, every inch," said Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg, who oversees the Orthodox synagogue of 1,300 families and a school of more than 1,000 students at 3300 Old Court Road.

For the communities along Old Court Road, between Park Heights and Greenspring avenues, the agreement preserves the suburban residential character of the area by allowing only five single-family homes on the synagogue's property along the road.

"There will be a substantial tree buffer and the natural environment will be preserved," said Phyllis Cole Friedman, president of the Pikesville-Greenspring Community Coalition.

The 32-page covenant restricts the synagogue from future development, except for expanding its religious and school buildings.

Community leaders and residents also pledged to support the synagogue's zoning request to build two condominium buildings.

For the synagogue, the condominium development allows it to offer homes for sale to its members, many of whom want to live nearby because they don't drive on the Sabbath.

"This will definitely make the synagogue more attractive for people who want to live nearby," Wohlberg said.

He said the condo sales also will bring in money to help support Beth Tfiloh's school and adult education programs.

Residents fought development plans by the synagogue for years because of traffic and environmental concerns.

But Wohlberg said yesterday that he believes the opposition was due to "the NIMBY [not in my back yard] syndrome" and a fear of change.

He also said he thinks the dispute represents "what's happening all over the country. There is opposition to what churches and synagogues are doing. They are looked upon as being detrimental."

But the rabbi said he and community leaders put their differences behind them Monday, shook hands, drank a toast and said, "L'Chaim," "To life" in Hebrew.

The agreement came as a relief to Kamenetz, who opposed a previous development plan for the site four years ago, but brought the parties together last year to work out a compromise.

"This battle took place for over five years, and hopefully the peace will last 50 years," he said.

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