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Chabad of Newton, MA eyes new location

Newton TAB

The Beth Menachem Chabad, which caused an uproar laced with accusations of anti-Semitism when it moved into its current home in Oak Hill nearly two years ago, plans to build a new synagogue a quarter-mile down the road on the site where a 200-year-old home now stands.

The Chabad, at 229 Dedham St., has set its sights on 349 Dedham St., which is situated at the corner with Rachel Road, near the Charles River Country Club’s golf course. The property’s previous owner, Adam Neiman, requested a permit to knock down the house in October 2004.

However, at least some of the residents in the area don’t want to see the house torn down.

“[This house] was really the anchor for what was once a farm area in the city of Newton,” said Ted Tye, a neighbor and well-known real estate developer, as well as a member of the Land Use Commission. “The historical commission had looked at it about 15 years ago and determined it to be a significant resource.”

Despite Tye’s pleas, the Historic Commission voted last year that the building should be “preferably preserved;” however, it did not label the property to be a landmark, an act that would protect the home from demolition.

Tye said he was unaware of who currently owned the property.

A neighbor, when contacted by the TAB, admitted she was unaware of any such plans or ownership change.

Alderman Richard Lipof, however, has followed the issue more closely.

“They’re planning on ripping down the home and coming to the board with plans for a new synagogue,” he said.

It is likely that the Chabad is on Lipof’s radar screen because of the controversy that was stirred up after the religious group moved into their current Dedham Street location.

In December 2003, the Board of Aldermen denied the Chabad’s request for a waiver for a parking stipulation that would require the synagogue to provide 46 off-street spots for its congregation.

At the time, aldermen, neighbors and the congregation squared off in a heated debate about the rights of the religious organization.

he congregation said that they had little need for parking because during many holidays, worshippers are required, by religious law, to walk to shul.

Others, however, feared that the congregation would create additional traffic to an already congested area. Beth Menachem is currently adjacent to the Countryside Elementary School.

Alderman John Stewart supports the idea of having the property reconsidered as a historic building.

“I filed a letter … urging that the property be considered for historical preservation,” said Stewart, who knew nothing about the current owner’s plans of construction.

Stewart’s letter, which he submitted at the request of a constituent, is simply to have the commission re-evaluate the property.

“I just feel that every historic property should be thoroughly reviewed before it’s allowed to be demolished. I don’t like to see historic properties destroyed,” said Stewart.

At the next meeting of the Historic Commission on Oct. 27, the committee will address the issue.

Jeremy Solomon, city spokesman, said that the demolition permit for 349 Dedham St. expires just one business day later, Oct. 31.
“It is within their ability to landmark on the spot,” said Solomon.

The property on 349 Dedham St. was assessed in 2005 at just over $1 million, and the house and detached garage sit on three quarters of an acre. The Beth Menachem Chabad bought the home from Adam Neiman in Feburary 2005 for $941,000, according to city records.

From the exterior, the home is showing its age. The two-story, yellow, colonial home has peeling paint and other signs of neglect.

Rabbi Chaim Prus of Beth Menachem confirmed that his synagogue is looking to relocate to the property, but not until construction has been completed. The shul currently serves 50 to 60 families; however, Prus said it was too early to speculate about the size of the new building as well as what would happen to the current building on 229 Dedham St.

Fred Chanowski, spokesman for Beth Menachem, said that they are only in the early stages of the project.

“We are just in the beginning of the architectural design process,” said Chanowksi, who assured neighbors that the synagogue will fit architecturally.

“We’re making sure we try to do the best possible for the neighborhood and the congregation,” said Chanowski. “Our principal objective is in fact to make it into the neighborhood – our principal design objective.”

Lipof was equally concerned with the building’s outer appearance.

“My request … has been, ‘Let’s try to stay inside all the zoning regulations – within [floor-area ratio] setbacks – and give us the prettiest building possible that emits a residential feel instead of an institutional feel,” said Lipof. “I want to go into this positively and make it work for everyone involved.”