A New Jersey congregation looking to move across the Delaware River to the Bucks County community of Langhorne has encountered some stiff opposition from residents. The reason is a familiar one: Homeowners contend that the new synagogue will increase the traffic volume in their quiet neighborhood.
Congregation Brothers of Israel, a 123-year-old Conservative shul in Trenton, N.J., wants to follow the bulk of it's membership, who have settled in the Langhorne and Yardley areas.
"Our congregation agreed that it's time to move," said Fred Young, a past president of the synagogue. "After an exhaustive search for property, we found a place we really like."
The site of choice is a roughly 9-acre plot of land at 2710 Village Road, adjacent to the Silver Lake residential development, comprised of 247 private homes.
The owner has agreed to sell the plot to the synagogue, provided that Brothers of Israel not tear down the nearly 300-year-old home that sits on the land.
As details of the synagogue's plans have become known, community opposition to the project has grown. Claiming that the addition of a synagogue – with a membership of about 200 families – to the neighborhood would create heavy traffic, nearly 270 residents signed a petition opposing the synagogue's plans.
More than 90 families have hired land-use attorneys to represent them before the Middletown Township Zoning Board in opposing the zoning variance.
The board held a hearing in early January on the issue, and met again on Jan. 25.
"They are pretty small rural roads," said Mike Carr, one of the attorneys representing those in opposition to the construction, referring to both Valley and Basil roads, which run on opposite sides of the proposed site.
The synagogue's leadership agreed to scrap plans to build an assisted-living facility on the premises, in addition to the synagogue, according to township officials. But the congregation has shown no signs of backing down altogether.
Young said the congregation chose the site in part because it would not need a zoning variance to build a house of worship. But the synagogue does need the zoning board's approval to operate a Hebrew school.
"I never pictured the question being raised," acknowledged Fred Edelman, a past president of the synagogue as he testified last week before the zoning board. "I know of no synagogue that does not operate a Hebrew school or have educational opportunities of some kind."
Perhaps not to be expected, hundreds of residents packed into the township's municipal building for the Jan. 25 hearing; people overflowed into the hallways, stood in the aisles and sat themselves on the floor.
The crowd appeared to be mostly made up of those against the synagogue's proposed move.
Much of the nearly three-hour proceedings last week consisted of the testimony and cross examination of Rabbi Howard Hersch, the synagogue's religious leader since 1961. Hersch stood in front of the room for the better part of an hour, answering questions about the congregation's activities and how much traffic the residents could reasonably expect.
At one point, Hersch offered an estimate – "10 or 15" – as to the number of cars that would be parked in the synagogue's lot on any Sunday morning, when the Hebrew school would be in operation; most children would carpool, he added, as a way of explanation.
His statement was followed by a collective groan and much head-shaking from members of the audience.
Up next will be a continuation of the hearing on Feb. 22. Once all the witnesses are called, the floor will be turned over for public comments, which in this case, could take a while.