Chabad seeks blessing to expand on former Three Bears site
Published 6:32 am, Thursday, March 26, 2015
If you build it, they will come.
That's what Chabad Lubavitch of Westport has found after opening its doors at the former site of the Three Bears restaurant on Newtown Turnpike three years ago. Now, the religious organization wants expand and has begun the application process with the town.
The synagogue would like to see its 9,000-square-foot home expanded to approximately 14,000 square feet, with additional space used for new classrooms and a larger sanctuary. The plans also called for upgrading parking and various site amenities.
"It'll enable the entire community to have more access to what we call a center for Jewish life ... because we'll be able to accommodate all kinds of different programming," he said.
Under the plans, the 850-square-foot, 30-year-old cottage at the back of the former restaurant, which is listed on the town's Historic Resources Inventory, would be torn down. The main building would be expanded to roughly cover the same footprint.
"You won't see it because it's in the rear," Gruder said. "If you picture where the cottage is that's coming down, it's going in its place, so it's not really something that will be visible when you're looking at the building."
"The plan is to close off the existing driveway right by the building," he said, for safety purposes, leaving entry and exit from the large parking lot west of the building through only the northwest corner.
"That really alleviates a lot of the traffic concerns," he said.
"Our plan includes an apartment inside the building," he said. "It's what's called a `Sabbath apartment,' so basically visitors that come and don't drive on the Sabbath, they can stay there." He said it would only be large enough to accommodate one family. "We're not building a hotel," he said.
Gruder said that the plans call for no exterior changes to the building.
"We're respecting, in complete accordance, with the façade and the existing building," he said. "We're not touching the historic nature of the building at all."
Chabad originally was granted conditional approval to use the building from the Planning and Zoning Commission in July 2012, with the requirement that some trees be planted along the road and some small visual adjustments made. The group was given five years in which to comply.
"We're in complete compliance now," Gruder said.
"We have been doing community outreach to the neighborhood and other relevant parties in town," Gruder said. "So far response has been extremely positive," he said. "We really do not have negative reaction at all at this point. Everyone's been very supportive."
"I think that everyone really believes it's just a perfect use for ... a beautiful old building."