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Shul's Move Takes Another Step to Reality

August 11, 2005 By:
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A sanctuary is to be built behind an existing house in Wynnewood.
Shifting a synagogue three-quarters of a mile may not sound like much - especially when it's from one side of City Avenue to the other - but for members of Overbrook Park's Congregation Beth Hamedrosh, it's become a herculean task, albeit one that moved one step closer to completion.

On July 27, the Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners granted the synagogue land-use development approval, something congregants expected some time ago, said building committee chair Mark Zohar.

"We thought we would have started construction by March or April," he said.

But when it comes to development, obstacles have a way of unexpectedly popping up.

Zohar explained that when the synagogue purchased a corner lot in Wynnewood near the intersection of Haverford and Manoa roads back in late 2000, the plan was to use an existing house for small, weekday services while funds were garnered to build a new sanctuary behind it. But Lower Merion Township didn't grant approval to do just that, so worshippers continued to pray at their building on Brookhaven Road in Philadelphia.

But before they'd even dealt with township bureaucracy, the synagogue had to address some opposition; neighbors at the new site worried about issues like parking and traffic congestion.

"We had to explain the fact that this is an Orthodox congregation; we don't drive on Shabbat and holidays," said Zohar.

The township granted zoning approval in 2002, paving the way for the congregation to hire an architect and come up with building plans. But complicating matters again, a neighbor who moved in subsequent to the granting of the zoning approval expressed objections to the plan.

Several months later, the congregation agreed to lower the height of the proposed sanctuary, add additional soundproofing and scratch plans for a parking lot in front of the house, which is used as office space.

The next phase requires the congregation to obtain building permits from the township and finalize its financial resources.

"We're close," said Zohar. "We definitely have some fundraising to do, but we're close."

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