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Tonight: Woodcliff Lake residents group to oppose Chabad-Lubavitch plan for Galaxy Gardens site

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: What had been private concerns over a Jewish congregation’s purported plans to create a regional center on a prized property in Woodcliff Lake officially goes public tonight.

A group calling itself Concerned Neighbors & Residents of Woodcliff Lake, Inc. said it plans to attend tomorrow night’s mayor and council meeting to oppose “the proposed overdevelopment” by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of the Galaxy Gardens Landscaping property.

Chabad-Lubavitch, a 250-year-old branch of Hasidism that boasts 3,300 institutions worldwide, has targeted the 2.1-acre parcel for a school, temple and meeting hall at the corner of Werimus Road and Woodcliff Avenue — which the residents’ group calls “the crossroads of our community.”

It is across from the municipal pool, athletic fields, recycling center and tennis courts, and next to Our Lady Mother of the Church, in a heavily populated area, it adds.

Chabad-Lubavitch clearly would need a variance, the local group’s president, Cheryl A. Dispoto, writes in a letter recently distributed within the borough.

Woodcliff Lake’s “zoning code does not permit houses of worship in a residential zone on properties of less than 3 acres,” Dispoto writes. “The 3-acre zoning has been in effect for the past forty years and, to the best of our knowledge, all religious facilities since its enactment are confirming, including Temple Emanuel and Our Lady Mother of the Church.

Some have privately speculated that the organization could accumulate enough space by buying land from a neighbor who might need the money.

No matter, according to the residents group.

“It is our position that a facility of this size and scope will in all likelihood lack sufficent on-site parking, negatively impacting the surrounding community,” Dispoto’s letter says. “It will also worsen safety and existing traffic patterns at this intersection.

“As anyone living in Woodclif Lake knows, [the intersection] is problematic in the best of times.”

Those who attend tomorrow night’s meeting might hear another idea for the site: A new Borough Hall and police station. A proponent of that plan has said the borough would have to bond half of a proposed $2 million project, adding that the former site could be razed to make way for commuter parking.

Some are skeptical of the suggestion, which one resident called “smoke and mirrors” to deflect attention from the Chabad-Lubavitch proposal, which would take the Galaxy Gardens site off the tax rolls.

The religious group had been meeting by the hundreds in a home on Overlook Drive, across from Temple Emanuel. Overcrowding brought warnings from borough officials, however, so the meetings were moved to the Woodcliff Lake Hilton.

Sources told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that Galaxy Gardens the site appeals to Chabad-Lubavitch as a Judaic “hub” for the Pascack valley.

Other towns have been considered — among them, Ridgewood and River Vale — as well as other parcels in Woodcliff Lake, they said. Right now, Galaxy Gardens apparently tops the list.

This “will cause additional traffic, safety and parking issues that could cause a substantial detriment to the public good,” Dispoto writes in the residents group’s letter. “It could also substantially impair the intent and purpose of the Woodcliff Lake Master Plan.

“We urge any interested party to support our group and oppose any overdevelopment of this location.”

Rabbi Dov Drizin, who heads the local Chabad-Lubavitch congregation, has been invited, as well.

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