A tent erected by Bais Medrash of Harborview, near the residential property of Gloria and Willy Katz, caused $4,000 in damage, according to the homeowners.
A Dec. 6 decision by the Village of Lawrence Board of Zoning Appeals allowed the shul to temporarily erect tents and host large catered parties. With the catering facility at the Lawrence Yacht & Country Club out of commission after Hurricane Sandy, the shul needed a local venue for its functions.
The Katzes claim that the shul, at 214-218 Harborview South, should not have been allowed to set up the tents, based on the restrictions it agreed to with the village in 2009 that prohibit catering facilities or catering trucks on its property. “Having catering in the backyard is not a part of prayer,” said Gloria Katz. The Katzes live at 217 Harborview North, directly behind the shul.
Hearing loud noise emanating from the shul on Dec. 17, the Katzes saw wooden platforms being installed before the tent was erected. According to Gloria, the tent was put up five feet too close to their property, and rainwater that ran off the tent and pooled underneath the wooden platforms resulted in $4,000 worth of damage to their drainage system, according to an estimate by Marvin Garcia Corp. of Inwood. They plan to sue Bais Medrash for the damages.
“There are drainage issues on Harborview to begin with,” Gloria said, “and if the drainage is impeded, the water slides down onto our property and we’re in trouble. I’ve stayed up almost all night during a rainstorm worrying that my basement will be flooded.”
Erwin “Irving” Langer, the president of Bais Medrash and a Lawrence village trustee, could not be reached for comment as the Herald went to press.
The Katzes contacted Michael Ryder, superintendent of the village’s Building Department, and requested that Bais Medrash be issued summonses for violating the restrictions on catering. According to Ryder, six summonses were issued on Jan. 2, and two more on Jan. 4. “If there is a violation, we go on factual information and then witness the violation ourselves and record it,” he said. “A summons can be issued any time after the violation.”
Four of the summonses were for violating the 2009 restrictions, which cover parking, trash storage and catering, and the other four summonses were for erecting wooden platforms without permits from the Building Department. “The summonses are all pending, with a [response] date of Jan. 8,” Ryder said, “and they will have to go in front of the village judge.”
The Katzes want the Board of Zoning Appeals to hold another hearing to reconsider its decision to allow the shul to erect a tent, because the issue of drainage was not taken into consideration when the shul was granted permission to host parties. The Katzes also claim that BZA Chairman Lloyd Keilson, a member of Bais Medrash, has a conflict of interest, and are calling for him to recuse himself from any possible future hearings on the shul.
“We just want a fair zoning board,” Gloria Katz said, “and transparency in government.”
Keilson, who has served on the zoning board for the past 10 years, said he belongs to 10 synagogues in the area. “If I were to recuse myself from issues regarding the synagogues, I would not be attending very many meetings,” he said. “There are also no requirements in the state of New York for me to recuse myself as long as I am not receiving any pecuniary interest.”
According to Keilson, there is no reason to hold another hearing. “The matter was deliberated and a decision was reached,” he said. “Permission for the tents will expire as soon as the country club is up and operating or six months from the date of the decision — the earlier of the two.”
The Katzes said they don’t object to having a shul near their backyard. “I consider it an honor to have a place of worship in my backyard,” Gloria said. “The only thing I find self-serving and highly inconsiderate is their behavior. It’s one thing after the next, and we don’t trust them anymore.”