Orthodox Jews who want to build a synagogue in a residential area of North Hollywood and neighbors who fear increased vehicular--and pedestrian--traffic, were told Tuesday by a city board to try to find a way to preserve both the character of the neighborhood and the right to worship.
On one side of the conflict are some residents who live near a lot in the 12400 block of Sylvan Street, where the Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic Orthodox congregation wants to build a two-story synagogue and underground parking garage.
The residents object to the temple primarily on the grounds that it would alter the character of their neighborhood of single-family homes and increase traffic. Some residents have said that even if most members observe the laws of Orthodox Judaism and walk to the synagogue Saturday mornings, the extra pedestrians would cause dogs to bark and wake up the neighborhood before the 9 a.m. services.
The 60 families who belong to the synagogue, on the other hand, argue that more than half the congregation lives in the neighborhood and should have a say in deciding what is built there. They say they purchased the property and plan to build larger quarters there because they are being evicted from the existing synagogue three blocks away on Whitsett Avenue.
After hearing about 2 1/2 hours of arguments Tuesday, the Los Angeles Board of Zoning Appeals postponed a decision and told both sides to meet face-to-face to work out a compromise that could include using shuttle buses to bring worshipers to the temple.
"We should have freedom of worship in this country--in that we are blessed--but the neighbors have a right to peace of mind," said Nikolas Patsaouras, vice chairman of the five-member board.
The issue first came before the city in June, when a zoning administrator approved construction of the synagogue over the protests of some residents, but placed 29 conditions on the permit. Those conditions include prohibiting the congregation from offering day care or classes at the site, and limiting membership to 120 people.
But the residents appealed and on Tuesday the board queried representatives of the synagogue at length about the number of people who would actually drive to the synagogue, either in defiance of religious laws or on weekdays when the restrictions do not apply.
In the end, the congregation's leader, Rabbi Amran Gabay, said a maximum of 80 people attend services each Saturday, and about 15 each weekday morning and evening. He said he could not say how many would drive.
"We're not going to take over the streets--it's not a business or a gas station," Gabay said.
But Dawn Boniface, a resident of Sylvan Street, said traffic is bound to increase. "I've already lost two pets on my street--do I now have to worry about my 7-year-old daughter" being hit by a car, she said to the board.
Patsaouras asked Councilman John Ferraro's office to mediate between the two sides and warned congregation members that they should not consider the postponement a guarantee of the board's approval.
"I'm sympathetic with you," Patsaouras said to the 20 or so residents at the hearing. "One car is too many for me."