« New York City builders must stop stifling the voices of local communities | Main | A Little Less Frank: The Evolving Design of Atlantic Yards »

February 18, 2010

Residents dispute Rabbi's requests

by Laura D'Onofrio

Why are we posting an item about a zoning dispute over a proposed synagogue in Millburn, NJ? Because Forest City Ratner Exec VP (and Millburn resident) Bob Sanna is playing the part of rabid obstructionist community activist — but his grip on the facts is a little bit off when his company's Atlantic Yards project becomes an issue.

Representatives of Rabbi Mendel Bogomilsky are scheduled to appear before the Zoning Board of Adjustment in March to apply for three variances to Bogomilsky's Jefferson Avenue and Old Short Hills Road property where he hopes to construct a synagogue.

A grass roots civic group, the Concerned Neighborhood Association, known as Save Millburn, wants residents to be aware of the zoning issue this creates in the township.

Save Millburn declares on their Web site that this is not an issue about religion or the rabbi, but is an effort to stop substantial zoning exceptions in town.

Fellow member Bob Sanna concurred that the zoning requirements were designed for a reason.

"To me, zoning is substantive and relies on infrastructure. There was a certain lifestyle, traffic, population and density in mind when they were created," said Sanna.

Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project relies on overriding New York City zoning, to accomplish goals like plopping down an 18,000-seat arena directly across the street from two-story clapboard houses and building 50-story skyscrapers in the midst of low-rise brownstone neighborhoods.

[Philip] Pfeffer [the synagogue's attorney] says it is ironic that Mr. Sanna has become a public advocate against the issue of variances. He notes that Sanna is employed with Forest City Ratner Corporation – a large development company in the New York.

"Robert Sanna makes his living through development projects that require major variance relief," said Pfeffer. "In his own neighborhood they [variances] are suggested and he says they are inappropriate. This shows his true colors."

"My company is engaged in economic development that brings jobs and affordable housing into areas that really need it," said Sanna. "That is quite different from a rabbi who wants a very fancy shul."

Uh, sure. Or an NBA team owner who wants a very fancy basketball arena.

"All the projects my company does are 'as of right' projects that don't need zoning variances," said Sanna.

That outrageous lie is accurate only to the extent that Atlantic Yards totally overrides local zoning, so as not to need a variance. As of right? Wrong.

He explains that Pfeffer most likely was referring to the Atlantic Yards Project. It is a hotly debated issue over eminent domain, which every court upheld, said Sanna.


NoLandGrab: For all we know, the synagogue project is inappropriate, but if it is, we hope it's being built right next door to Mr. Sanna's home. The chickens are coming home to roost, eh, Bob?

Posted by eric at February 18, 2010 10:03 AM