House of Worship

Securing Approvals to Operate a Synagogue in the Suburbs of New England

Securing approvals to operate a house of worship in the suburbs of New England is a challenging enterprise. The particular site in this case made the engagement even more challenging. A synagogue obtained site control of a 2.5-acre parcel of land in a single-family residential neighborhood zoned for residences and within an Aquifer Protection District. The site also contained wetlands and had no access to sewer service. Many of the neighbors were strongly opposed to living nearby a house of worship.

To meet its religious and educational needs, the synagogue's building program included a 1,600-square foot facility with a 250-seat sanctuary, large function hall and multiple classrooms. The client also sought to construct over 80 parking spaces necessary for the proper functioning of the building and planned to provide extensive landscaping to buffer the visual impact of the project.

Legal services were required in order to properly apply the exemptions from zoning enjoyed by a nonprofit, religious institution. This involved proceedings before and negotiations with the local Planning Board, Building Commissioner and Special Town Counsel. In addition, this nonprofit faced obtaining approvals from several different boards: site plan approval from the Planning Board, an order of conditions from the Conservation Commission, a septic system permit from the Board of Health and a curb-cut from the local Department of Public Works. In addition, it was necessary to work with the neighbors to mollify their concerns and to reach an agreement with an adjacent house of worship regarding shared parking.

Following many months of public hearings before numerous boards and sensitive negotiations with neighbors, all permits were issued. Moreover, despite vociferous initial objections from a neighborhood group that retained counsel, no appeals of the approvals or decisions were filed. The synagogue was built and functions today without any notable adverse impact on the neighborhood. This result was made possible by our coordination of numerous civil engineers and wetlands scientists, planning and strategizing with the leadership of the synagogue, and successful negotiations with neighborhood stakeholders and permit-granting authorities.

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