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Expansion Scaled Back at Home Used as Jewish Prayer Center

Development: Chabad Lubavitch will build facilities at alternate site. Neighbors had complained about parking violations and other concerns.


OAK PARK — An Orthodox Jewish group has decided to scale back an expansion of the house it uses for prayer in this suburban community.

The Chabad Lubavitch group, which holds its weekly prayer services in a tract house, received approval Tuesday from the Municipal Advisory Council to reduce its expansion of the home to 1,020 square feet, 340 fewer than approved by county officials in 1994.

Earlier this month the group established a regional headquarters in Agoura Hills, which eliminated the need for an office that was included in plans for the Conifer Street dwelling in Oak Park. The addition will now include only a new prayer area and a larger kitchen.

"We might want to reduce the expansion even further, if that suits our needs," said Chabad representative Eli Eisenberg.

Eisenberg said he was unsure when construction will begin.

Chabad's use of the house as a place of worship for 60 members has been a bone of contention in this upscale neighborhood. Some neighbors now say they are pleased that the expansion will be reduced.

But others voiced concerns during Tuesday night's meeting regarding the synagogue's effect on property values and how the home will be used once Chabad's five-year special-use permit expires.

"Many of the neighbors expressed concern that the home would be used for something other than a place of residence," neighbor Joe Santoro said.

Santoro said residents are concerned that extensive modifications made to the home could affect its salability. Others were upset by repeated parking violations in front of the home on days of worship and an irrigation system that floods nearby yards.

Neighbors were particularly upset about the construction of a large sukkah in the backyard of the Chabad property, a temporary wooden booth with a roof of straw or palm fronds. The structure is used to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot, which starts on the evening of Sept. 27 and continues for one week.

Nearby residents contend the structure is a fire hazard and that it obstructs the view from their backyards.

Eisenberg said neighbors' concerns are unfounded and that sukkahs are commonly erected by Jewish households during the holiday. He also said Chabad's Agoura Hills center would "siphon off" many members worshiping in Oak Park, reducing the need for parking.

"All around, I think it's a win-win," Eisenberg said.

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