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Orthodox Jewish congregation wins approval for new synagogue in Brighton

Rendering of proposed new synogogue

Rendering of proposed new synogogue.

The Zoning Board of Appeal today approved plans by Congregation Khal Tiferes Yosef to move from its current home in its rabbi's basement to a new two-story shul at 49 Bennett St., basically across the street.

The congregation bought the roughly 12,000-square-foot lot for $1.2 million in 2019. It needed board approval for its new home because the building, which would include an attached apartment for its rabbi, would be closer to its side and rear lot lines than allowed, the proposal called for just 5 parking spaces instead of the 14 zoning required, and the building would be larger than allowed on that size of lot.

Parking and traffic became a focus of opponents, some of whom suggested the congregation find a bigger, busier street to build a home on; some also opposed to the size of the building and its potential impact on drainage on nearby parcels and creation of shadows.

Congregation attorney Joseph Hanley said the lack of parking would be nowhere near the burden some residents opposed to the project think because Orthodox Jews tend to move to homes near their congregations - in part so they can walk to Sabbath services.

"On the Sabbath, which is where we're going to see the most amount of people going to the synagogue, by their religion, they cannot and do not drive," he said. And since most congregation members live near the site, he said there would be similar conditions for services on other days.

He added that "this community, they also have a much larger family, more children, it would be impractical to drive to prayer, and as part of their faith they need to live within a certain proximity and theirs not a culture of commuting, if you will, to [a religious] service."

The congregation, which Rabbi Shloimy Halpern started when he moved to Boston in 2016, now has 40 to 50 families - or roughly 200 people - as members, all living within walking distance of Halpern's house and the new site.

Although the new building will have 14 tables in the basement for a post-service kiddish, or gathering with food, the congregation will not be renting the space out for events that might require parking, including weddings, he said.

Original plans for the synagogue showed a three-story, contemporary design, but the congregation's architect reduced the size to two stories and added pitched roofs and other elements to make the building better fit in with the residential street it will sit on, Hanley said.

In addition to the kiddish area, the interior will include a main sanctuary that could hold up to 190 people and a mikvah, or ritual bath.

City Councilors Liz Breadon (Allston/Brighton), Ruthzee Louijeune (at large) and Erin Murphy (at large) and US Rep. Ayanna Pressley supported the proposal, as did the Brighton Allston Improvement Association. City Councilor Michael Flaherty, however, opposed the project, saying he agreed with some nearby residents the project would mean too much traffic on a too-narrow street.

Nearby resident Daniel Nee said the claim that congregation members don't drive to the current location is "completely untrue." He said people drive to the rabbi's house all the time and there can be two to three worship services and events a day ."There are people coming and going all the time and they drive and they park."

Adele Strauss, who said she was Jewish, also opposed the project, saying it was simply too large. "It's a gigantic structure bursting the seams [of the lot]," she said.

Ariella Hellman of Agudath Israel of New England, an Orthodox umbrella group, said, the new synagogue would not mean more traffic or congestion because it would serve the existing community of families who already live nearby. Because of the restriction on driving on Saturdays, another location, such as on Washington Street, simply wouldn't work, she said.

She said she hoped the board would vote for the project in part to prove Boston truly is a welcoming city - and not one that would tell Jews to move someplace else.

"Unfortunately, this is a message the Jewish community has heard too many times throughout our history," she said.

The board voted unanimously to approve the required variances.



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Since the synagogue looks like it'd fit right in on any suburban street in Atlanta or Houston or Denver. I guess that's what the neighbors wanted.

The whole "but parking!!!!" argument from the neighbors really grates considering the congregation already meets across the street. I'm not even sure it's reasonable or desirable to require churches (or other houses of worship) to provide parking.

Voting closed 35

If we're gonna "but parking!!!!" anything, maybe it should be Saint Columbkille, which vacuums up a great deal of the neighborhood parking during services.

Voting closed 17

Let's hear it for the attorney who had to school people on not knowing that a lot of Orthodox walk to services.

Also, perhaps some of the Brighton residents concerned about this "massive" building should see the old shuls in Dorchester, Roxbury, Lynn, Quincy, and Malden which fit right into the neighborhood despite being bigger than the abutting housing stock.

Voting closed 44

The Walnut Street shul is marred only by the Tobin Bridge abutting the back of the bimah.

Voting closed 14

I just wanted to note that I am amazed that this got past the BAIA.

It doesn't look much bigger than the town houses that got built just down parsons.

I do find it a bit disingenuous to say that "Washington St" would not work because the families walk given that Washington St is literally 2 blocks south.

Voting closed 12

Parking arguments are almost always non-sensical. This particular parking argument is particularly non-sensical. First, very limited need for parking by this particular community. Second, there are five more spots than available at the current location used by the congregation. Third, it's clear from Google street and satellite views, that there is plenty of street parking available, and just about all of the other buildings have private parking.

So we have a group of people who won't need parking, in a neighborhood with plenty of street parking, and a building proposal that actually increases private, off street parking. Five car Flaherty really needs to shut the hell up.

Voting closed 22

There is a synagogue around the corner,no ?

Voting closed 0

The place on Parsons Street is where the rabbi lives now; he'd move to the new place once it's built. Or is there another one?

Voting closed 0

Houses of worship, and more importantly on-street parking spaces, should be limited to congregations that got their buildings constructed built before 1961. People who live in single family houses should never have to witness any sort of change to the neighborhood or its parking demand. Especially people with driveways -- they're the ones who are most justified in complaining about new buildings without off-street parking. The way it is now should be how it is forevermore.

Voting closed 0