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With $1.6M purchase, Chabad takes control of former Three Bears site

Updated 2:39 pm, Thursday, January 31, 2013
  • Chabad Lubavitch of Westport has bought the site of its current headquarters at 79 Newtown Turnpike for $1.6 million. Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    Chabad Lubavitch of Westport has bought the site of its current headquarters at 79 Newtown Turnpike for $1.6 million. Photo: Paul Schott

 

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A year after moving to the Newtown Turnpike site of the former Three Bears restaurant, the Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch of Westport has bought the property for $1.6 million.

Chabad closed Tuesday on the acquisition of the 2.7-acre property at 79 Newtown Turnpike from Three Bears Associates. The sale of the property had been "in process" for about 18 months, according to Ken Gruder of the Norwalk law firm Goldman Gruder & Woods LLC, which represents Chabad.

The purchase of 79 Newtown Turnpike begins a new era of stability for a group that has led a peripatetic existence in recent years. Chabad moved into the property in early 2012, after a stay on Ketchum Street in the Saugatuck section of town. Chabad gatherings have also been held at the Kings Highway North home of its rabbi, Yehudah Kantor.

"It is our honor to be in such a landmark building in Westport and we look forward to preserving the integrity of the building and at the same time providing a warm home for the community," Kantor said in a statement.

The group's move to former restaurant property also involved a protracted review by town officials. After Chabad relocated there, town officials issued a notice of violation because Chabad had not received approval to occupy the building.

Chabad later obtained an abeyance from the town, which allowed the group to stay at the site, while zoning officials reviewed its application to open a religious center there. The Planning and Zoning Commission last July unanimously approved a site plan for Chabad to make the Newtown Turnpike property its permanent home.

Since Chabad's move to its new home, it has opened a religious school for students between ages 8 and 15 years old, and also held religious services there.

Chabad also plans to make approximately $150,000 in interior renovations of the 9,100-square-foot building, according to Gruder.

The site was home to the Three Bears Restaurant for many years until it closed in 2009. Another restaurant, Tiburon, subsequently operated there briefly, but the property had been vacant for more than two years before Chabad moved in.

Unlike a synagogue, Chabad does not have a base of dues-paying members. Instead, it has a "network" of supporters, which now totals about 300 people, according to Gruder.

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott