GRS Building Updates
June 6th, 2014
It is very gratifying to report that on June 3, the Greenwich Planning & Zoning Commission voted 5 to 0 in favor of our Preliminary Application to build our new home on 92 Orchard Street in Cos Cob. On June 11, we will appear in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals to request the “Special Exception” we need to build a house of worship in a residential zone. Later in June (the date is not set as of this writing) we will have a second meeting with the Architectural Review Committee to close the few open issues from the last meeting; details and data has already been submitted. Finally, we return to Planning & Zoning in July for final approval.
Special thanks are due to Sandy Soule, who has increasingly led this regulatory process, and spoke on behalf of GRS at the P&Z meeting. The gist of her remarks addressed to the P&Z commissioners follow:
Hi, my name is Sandy Soule and I’ve lived in Greenwich since 1976. I’m the co-chair of our new building committee and a past GRS president.
Over a total of six public hearings of P&Z and IWWA, we’ve heard many comments from the neighbors, and GRS has done its utmost to respond favorably to all reasonable requests. As a long-time Greenwich resident, and a member of GRS since 1980, I’d like to share a few thoughts:
Members of GRS live right in the heart of Cos Cob, Riverside, Old Greenwich, Glenville, and throughout Greenwich. For 20 years, the GRS home was at 257 Stanwich Road, two miles north of our new location at 92 Orchard. Most of our members have been driving up Orchard to Stanwich for years, so the new location means almost no net change in our traffic patterns.
An central location was an essential requirement for our new location, so we were pleased when 92/96 Orchard Street became available as a site for a building to be used primarily for study and worship.
In searching for the right architect, we were thrilled to find an architect of Mark Thompson’s stature: not only did he grow up here, but the quality of his work in Greenwich (Perrot Library, First Presbyterian Church, Boys & Girls Club, Greenwich Country Day, Eagle Hill) is well known and admired. Equally important was his willingness to meet in person with all the abutting neighbors, and amend the plans to suit their needs. Bill Kenny, our landscape architect, was also part of these conversations, and was equally responsive to neighbors’ concerns.
So where are we now? After a great deal of dialogue with the neighbors, and many resulting changes to the plan, we are confident that we have a building and site plan that meets or exceeds town requirements. We are looking to fit quietly into the neighborhood as a caring, dignified addition. The building will be an enhancement to both the site and the neighborhood; in fact, we invite the neighbors to use our parking for local activities. We hope you will allow us to move forward on the building of our new home – only the second purpose-built synagogue in the nearly 400-year history of our town.
Greenwich Reform Synagogue (GRS), a Reform Jewish congregation serving the Greenwich community for over 35 years, was given unanimous approval by the Town of Greenwich Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Agency (IWWA) Feb. 3 for its plans to construct its new home in Cos Cob. The building will be only the second purpose-built synagogue constructed in the town’s 374-year history.
All seven members of the IWWA board voted in favor of the GRS plans for the property’s wetlands, drainage requirements, and other site-specific issues relevant to the agency’s mission. The board members said that their outstanding questions were answered and that the plans, in some instances, exceeded the town requirements.
“We’re proud of the plan that we put together, because we believe that it protects the wetlands both on and off the site and responsibly develops the property,” said GRS Board Chairman Robert Birnbaum. “It reflects our commitment to being good neighbors and our concern for the environment.”
The IWWA recognized that the GRS plan surpassed the minimum storm drainage and water detention requirement for a 50-year storm event. The Town of Greenwich Drainage Manual only required GRS to comply with a drainage and water detention plan for a 25-year storm event.
Included in the approved GRS plan is a green roof, covering a portion of the synagogue; it will have plants and other vegetation to help absorb and treat rainwater.
GRS has filed plans with the Town of Greenwich to build its synagogue on a 1.75-acre site on Orchard Street in Cos Cob. The building will be 2.5 stories, housing a sanctuary, classrooms, and offices in approximately 12,300 square feet.
Architectural firm Mark B. Thompson Associates LLC is designing the building. The firm’s principal, Mark Thompson, is a former Greenwich resident and has designed numerous well-received buildings in Greenwich, including the Perrot Library Radcliffe Children’s Wing, First Presbyterian Church, and the Boys & Girls Club.
The synagogue location is close to Central Middle School, Greenwich Baptist Church, the Cos Cob Community Center at Bible Street and the Montgomery Pinetum. Like almost all of the houses of worship in Greenwich, it’s located in a convenient residential area.
About Greenwich Reform Synagogue (www.grs.org)
Greenwich Reform Synagogue was founded in 1976. GRS provides a flexible, progressive environment for prayer, study, celebration of Shabbat and Jewish holidays and for all life cycle events. GRS’s mission is to be a spiritual home that is welcoming to all, and to connect the congregation through friendship, tradition, community and love. GRS is a member synagogue of the Union for Reform Judaism.
August 28, 2013
Dear Fellow Congregant,
This week, Greenwich Reform Synagogue will file its site plan for 92 Orchard Street with the relevant town agencies, including the Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Agency (IWWA) and the Planning & Zoning Commission. This important step sets forth the parameters of our new spiritual home and describes in considerable detail the building, parking, drainage, and also includes a traffic study. Click here to read a press release we distributed earlier today and click here to view a sketch.
Getting this application ready has been a tremendous effort. Once again, we owe our thanks to Andrew Loebelson, Sandy Soule and the other members of the New Building Committee who have selected the outstanding team of professionals on our team and overseen their efforts with unflagging energy, with sometimes daily contact and innumerous team conference calls and meetings.
There is one item that I wanted to draw your attention to: it was decided last week that it is not necessary to include 22 Osee Place in the filing. We determined very early in the process that there would not be a synagogue entrance or exit on Osee and thus there are no traffic concerns there, but this should put that specific concern to bed for good.
As you know, we have reached out to neighbors of the site and continue to do so, including with email contact today to update them and offer dialog. Some, I’m glad to say, have taken us up on that offer, and after dialog indicated that they not only find our project unobjectionable but preferable to other potential uses of the site, such as putting up 4 or 5 houses.
That’s not to say that there won’t be opposition. But it’s worth remembering that with respect to our new spiritual home, GRS is in an extremely strong position-morally (there’s nothing wrong or even unusual about building a house of worship in a residential neighborhood), ethically (we are harming no one in this effort and I believe we will ultimately improve the area), esthetically (the building and its environs will be beautiful) and financially (we have the resources to accomplish this.) So on to the next stage!
President, Greenwich Reform Synagogue
4-25-13: Owner’s Rep and Architect
Owner’s Rep: After hearing construction horror stories from other synagogues we visited, Andrew Loebelson, Marc Abrams and Sandy Soule interviewed a number of owner’s reps, and selected Strategic Building Solutions to help us stay on track and most importantly, on budget and schedule.
Architect: Our architect, Mark Thompson, has added information on our project to his website. Click here to see what the property looks like now; click any of the small photos to enlarge them. One of our first projects will be to tear down the collapsing barn and shed, since their dilapidated condition makes them quite dangerous. An equally important step is to commission a geotechnical survey of the property to obtain information on the physical properties of the soil and rock at the site. That will help us develop an effective plan for excavation of the foundation and basement, plus parking and drainage systems.
Architect and Outreach
Today, we are happy to announce the selection of Mark Thompson as the architect for our new synagogue. The search was extensive and very thorough, and I’m confident that the right choice has been made. Thanks are due to Sandy Soule, Andrew Loebelson, Helen Stark, Wendy Schreiber, Nancy Duffy, Linda Wiltsek, George Toper, Kevin Winpinsinger, Betty Stark, Steve Peters, Sandi Klein, Marc Abrams, and Nancy Korobkin, all of whom participated in the selection process.
Attached are two documents. One is a Press Release which will be distributed to the media later today; in it you will find background on Mark and a link to his firm’s website. The other is an Email sent to neighbors in Cos Cob.
Congratulations to all involved; it’s a great thing for GRS to be moving forward in such a decisive manner.
A new home for GRS: A timeline
This month marks the one-year anniversary of the agreement for the sale of the GRS property at 257 Stanwich Road to the Stanwich School. This summary reviews what has happened during the past year, and outlines what lies ahead for us. For additional details, please click through on the hyperlinked text in the copy below.
Spring, 2012: GRS and Stanwich announced that a sales agreement had been reached; the deal closed in June.
Summer, 2012: Two key committees moved into high gear — the “interim space” and the “site search” committees.
Interim: Under the capable leadership of Helen Stark and Andrew Loebelson, beautiful office and meeting space was located at 1037 East Putnam Avenue in Riverside, while services were scheduled for First Congregational Church in Old Greenwich and Round Hill Community Church in Greenwich. Nancy Korobkin spearheaded the design group that will ensure that Round Hill will be transformed into a sacred Jewish space for upcoming b’nai mitzvah services. GRS President Robert Birnbaum shared these plans last July here.
Site search: An excellent recap of the issues relating to the site search can be found in the President’s Blog, covering both general cost issues (aspirational vs. affordable) as well as such specific requirements as location, access to town sewer and water lines, zoning, etc. Co-chaired by Andrew Loebelson and Sandy Soule, the committee investigated properties from the Post Road to the Merritt, from the Stamford border to central Greenwich, with steep learning curves and more than a few disappointments along the way.
In October, an important milestone was reached when the congregation approved the purchase of land at 92 and 96 Orchard Street in Cos Cob; details here.
Meanwhile, the “site search” committee evolved into the “new building” committee, charged with selecting an architect who could not only build us a beautiful new synagogue on a very tight budget, but who could play a key role in helping us through the approval process.
The architectural search process began with visits to many area synagogues and other buildings in Fairfield and Westchester counties that had recently been expanded, renovated, or built from scratch. A tremendous amount was learned about cost-containment, pitfalls to be avoided, approval processes, and much more. From these visits, a list of recommended architects who were familiar with construction in our area was developed. A Request for Proposal (RFP) was sent to a dozen architects in early October, starting with the following lines:
“George Bernard Shaw defined a miracle as an event that creates faith. Greenwich Reform Synagogue has purchased a new site and, with your help, wishes to build a ‘miracle.”’
Most of the architects who received the RFP responded with a proposal; these were reviewed in depth by the committee. The four top choices were selected to present to the committee in person in early December.
Discussions with numerous architects and engineers made it clear that a feasibility study of the property was essential; we commissioned local civil engineer Tony d’Andrea and architect Mark Thompson to prepare it. The results show the alternatives in terms of how large a building we can build and where on the land we can best position it.
The countless hours spent working on this project taught us a key lesson: the design of the building is just one part of the process. In addition, although the construction is obviously a major expense, site prep, drainage, parking, landscaping, and soft costs are a close second. The town approval process (P&Z, wetlands, architectural review, etc.) and the neighborhood relations must be handled properly, or the project could significantly increase both in cost and time required.
New Building Committee member Marc Abrams is heading up the search to find an owner’s rep (OR) to oversee the project, control costs, and protect the interests of GRS. A half-dozen ORs were interviewed in March and one will be selected soon.
Later this spring, we’ll be able to announce the name of the architectural firm that will design the project, along with the landscape architect, and other key team members.
We will then move forward on many other aspects of the process, including meetings with congregants and neighbors, and preliminary design sketches, and much more.