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Controversial Synagogue in Northbrook

March 8, 2014

Dear Readers,

As many of you are aware, there is a controversy about the future of a small parcel of land in west Northbrook.  Late last summer, a neighbor told me about a recently formed Orthodox congregation which was planning to build a new synagogue – in our neighborhood. My first reaction was that I thought he was kidding. Since I have lived in my house on White Oak Drive for 18 years, I know the houses, streets, open spaces, trees, etc., like the back of my hand.  I could think of no suitable space on which a public use facility could be built! His face, however, was not that of someone trying to be funny.  He told me exactly where the congregation was planning to build their new synagogue. Even then, I didn’t quite believe him. I went outside to walk by the parcel of land, now occupied by a small, old, abandoned house, a fence, some bushes, trees, and grass. There must be a mistake, I thought. There was simply not enough space for a synagogue, and besides, the lot was right in between several homes. At this point, I was still skeptical for another reason:  why hadn’t we heard about this before?  The plan had supposedly been in the works for quite some time. Surely, we, the neighbors would know about a plan that would drastically change our tranquil, quiet enclave. It simply couldn’t be true. It just made no sense, on so many levels.

As the weeks went by, the rumors were confirmed: it was no joke. Congregation Darchai Noam was on their way to building their dream synagogue, which has unfortunately become a nightmare for so many of us in Citation Lakes and Brookhill/Summerhill. We, the neighbors, are adamantly opposed to any non-residential development of this land, and we have done our best to have our voices heard at Northbrook Village Hall Board of Trustee meetings. To this point, we have been able to delay the development by illuminating gross violations of building codes and preposterous estimates by the congregation regarding usage and seating capacities, particularly as is relates to parking provisions and access to the structure. The revisions keep coming, and at some point, we fear, the village will accept their plans. Virtually all trees will be removed, and all open spaces gobbled up by the building and parking lot. A dangerous and ugly detention pond will be created in our midst, and lights on tall poles will shine into the back yards of surrounding houses.  Our concerns about dangerous traffic congestion, both from cars and pedestrians, increased flood potential, rain water run-off patterns, light pollution, etc.,  have been largely ignored by our village.

Why is this happening? The village says there is nothing they can do. The land was deceptively purchased under the guise of single family home development. After the purchase was completed, the lot was annexed by the Village. After annexation, the land was donated to the congregation, but by then it was immune from community review. This is a new low for the term “loophole”. They, the congregation, must have known that if the community had the chance to influence the outcome, the answer would have been a resounding “No!”  The zoning designation and site location for this development is unprecedented in the history of Northbrook!

We, the neighbors, have been clear: we do not want this development to take place. I encourage all Northbrook residents to drive by 3465 Techny (approximately ½ mile west of Landwehr Road) to see what is happening. If your initial reaction is similar to mine (“they want to put a synagogue there?”), please let the village know how you feel. If something like this can happen in my neighborhood, it can happen in yours, too.

Eliot Tokowitz

Arthur Wulf March 14, 2014 at 01:22 AM
So much for a balanced commentary. I was involved in getting the religious institution zoning changed back in about 1986. It requires a 2 acre lot. Lighting is not a problem in any building in Northbrook. The zoning allows all churches, synagog etc to be specifically in residential areas. Look around Northbrook. Almost EVERY relig. instit is in a RESIDENTIAL area. If they meet the 84K size, they don't need to go to the neighbors. By the way, every orthodox congregation in a middle class neighborhood in the US has raised the property values dramatically by coming into a neighborhood. You will be able to cash out tremendously, which I am confident you will do. What if it were a Catholic church, how would you feel? Try to give an honest answer, which I doubt you will. Art Wulf
Robert March 14, 2014 at 01:59 PM
@Arthur Wulf Achieving balance in a debate can hardly be done with defective facts and faulty presumptions not to mention religious prejudice. The actual acreage required for a religious facility in Northbrook is NOT, as you assert 2 acres, but 50,000 sq. feet for R1 zoning and 30,000 sq. feet for R2 zoning, 1.14 and .68 acre, respectively (Northbrook zoning regulations section 3-110). As is clear from the voices of the neighborhood, peace, tranquility and quality of life is the priority of the residents, not the increased real estate value. The purely speculative argument you make about the real estate prices may be your main criteria of judgment and concern, it clearly is not of the ones who will be affected by the unwanted intrusion. Reaching your irrelevant conclusion you show that you did not understand the concerns of those who oppose the construction. Religion has nothing to do with it but you did tip your hand and showed us your prejudice.
Ric Warchol March 14, 2014 at 04:04 PM
Robert, well stated.
Eliot Tokowitz March 15, 2014 at 11:06 AM
I agree. Well put, Robert. I, like many of the neighbors opposed to the synagogue, am Jewish. All this means is that I don't want a public use facility built next to my home. It has nothing to do with religion. The argument that A. Wulf makes about property value completely misses the point. We are also dumbfounded by the lack of transparency, which I regret to say has possibly reinforced some hurtful stereotypes. I hope those who are following this will resist the temptation to generalize.

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