A three-year search for land has brought Congregation Beth Shalom of the Blue Hills to a small, residential street in Milton. But now it has to contend with unhappy neighbors.
Early last month, Milton resident Marvin Gordon, the grandson of one of the town’s first Jewish families, proposed donating 1.5 to 1.8 acres of land for the construction of a temple. The offer means the congregation would no longer have to roam from one temporary home to the next, and can start planning a synagogue suited to its needs.
“It’s symbolically meaningful to us. . . [and] we are no longer wandering in the desert with our tents on our backs,” said Rabbi Fred Benjamin.
The congregation has settled on a building with a 5,500- to 6,000-square-foot footprint nestled between Lodge and Gun Hill streets.
However, Lodge Street residents have objected, worried that a residential nook will be overtaken by traffic, and aghast that the property’s 50-foot frontage will become an access road for the temple.
‘We all want to be friends here. . . If you jam this down our throats, we’ll hate these people for a long time.’
The proposal requires only the approval of the Planning Board, whose purview is limited to the access road. As long as the building fits zoning requirements, no other approvals are needed.
Yet neighbors are hoping that their protests will lead to changes, and their complaints flowed freely during a selectmen’s meeting early this month.
“It’s a very small street, only 22 to 25 feet wide,” said Bill Sutton, a Lodge Street resident. “It will have a devastating impact on the street for the safety of the children, and we feel it would impact the property [values] as well.”
Vincent Stancato referred to construction concerns: 18-wheelers hauling stone and steel to the temple. Brian Walsh had concerns over drainage.
More than 40 residents of Lodge Street signed a petition against the proposal, and urged the temple to consider their needs.
“[Gordon is] making us enemies, which we don’t want to be,” said James O’Donoghue, a Lodge Street resident. “You don’t want enemies in the neighborhood. We all want to be friends here. . . If you jam this down our throats, we’ll hate these people for a long time.”
Others demanded the town take part in the approval process. Though the proposal came before selectmen only as an informational courtesy, Lodge Street resident Aileen Kenney asked that town officials review safety and traffic issues. The street already has to deal with traffic from a church on Randolph Avenue, as well as cut-through traffic.
“While I strongly support religious diversity and feel as a community we benefit by providing for all faiths, I stand in opposition to Lodge Street as primary access,” Kenney said.
The problem, residents say, mainly has to do with the location’s access point. Gordon has given the land only near the Lodge Street entrance, and said he opposes the idea of taking down more trees to have the temple road come out somewhere else.
“My objective is to keep absolutely as much green space as possible,” Gordon said.
The Gordon family has owned the large stretch of land between the two streets for generations, and operated it as a dairy farm for 29 years. Since then, bits and pieces have been sold off, and Gordon currently resides on a three-acre parcel. Another six acres next door is undeveloped, and the donated land would come from there.
The temple has not yet sought approval from the Planning Board. But that panel’s oversight is limited under the Dover Amendment, a state law that largely exempts religious or educational uses from zoning laws.
Still, congregation members said they are eager to hear neighbors’ concerns.
“We hope to be able to work with them and make this work for everybody,” said Gordon, who told the meeting that he would allow construction trucks to go through his property rather than Lodge Street.
Temple members also stressed the limited use of the site. According to Deborah Felton, past president of the temple and an active board member, only 130 families are members of the temple, including those from a recent merger with Temple Beth El in Quincy.
From those families, fewer than two dozen children come to classes, and Saturday mornings draw about 25 people to service, she said. Only three to four people would come to the temple daily. The traffic picks up around the Jewish high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, along with the occasional bar or bat mitzvah.
Ronit Voigt, co-president of the temple, said temples are common in Massachusetts neighborhoods.
“Sometimes you can’t even see they are temples,” she said.
Plans currently call for the building to be anything but audacious, with limited parking on site. Additional parking would be off-site, with planned shuttle service available during busy periods.
Although architectural drawings have not been created, Benjamin said the idea is to nestle the building into the woods, with a wood and glass design.
“We’ll try to build a building that suits the personality of our congregation. We’re not an ornate group. . . but we want it to look nice,” Benjamin said.
The desire for a smaller space is what drove the congregation from the 650-family Blue Hill Avenue synagogue, which was sold for $3 million in 2011.
Benjamin said groundbreaking is planned for next spring.
This location is the only one the temple is moving forward with, Benjamin said, and although he joked that at least it didn’t take 40 years to discover this version of the Promised Land, temple members felt they had gone long enough without a home.
“We’re very optimistic. Our needs are very doable for the law of the land,” he said.
Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@ gmail.com.