Oakwood City Council approves ‘religious use’ for Sugar Camp Building C only

Beth Abraham to move to Oakwood

Marshall Weiss

The Dayton Jewish Observer

Synagogue to begin interior renovations, will pursue religious use for 2nd building

At the end of a contentious 3-and-a-half-hour public meeting, the Oakwood City Council on Sept. 18 unanimously granted the new owners of Sugar Camp a special-use permit to allow religious institutional use in Building C.

This clears the way for Beth Abraham Synagogue to begin interior renovations on the 54,832-square-foot building, with the aim of moving to the site in time for the 2007 High Holy Days next fall.

Beth Abraham has entered into a purchase agreement to secure Sugar Camp Buildings B and C from congregants Sandy Mendelson, Allan Rinzler and Lee Schear, who purchased the 24-acre Sugar Camp site in May through their company, Oakwood Investment Group.

The owners had originally requested a religious-use permit for Buildings B and C. Beth Abraham plans to sell or rent Building B to another Jewish community organization or organizations.

But just prior to the council’s vote, Rinzler dropped the 19,414-square foot Building B from the request, at the urging of City Council Member Stanley Castleman.

In his earlier presentation to the council, Oakwood Investment Group attorney Tom Knotch, of the Thompson Hine law firm, said, “There is no urgency on the overall plan, except for the synagogue.”

Beth Abraham President Susie Katz said the synagogue’s plan is to continue with the purchase of both buildings.

“We will submit change of use (for Building B) with the master plan,” she said. Oakwood Investment Group is required to submit its detailed master plan for the site (including Building C) at the Oakwood Planning Commission’s December meeting.

Knotch’s presentation linked the approval of religious use to the federal government’s Religious Land Use Act of 2000. The act protects individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws.

“The federal government has issued a mandate not to restrict religious institutions,” he said.

At the council meeting, architectural firm Lorenz + Williams presented a preliminary preview of the site plan.

Mayor Judy Cook explained to those present that the change of use did not require a site plan; after urging citizens to hold their site plan comments until the December planning commission meeting, Oakwood residents booed and hissed.

Most comments from community members stemmed from frustration that the city didn’t require a full site plan for Sugar Camp prior to the special-use vote.

One Oakwood resident, pointing a finger at the Sugar Camp owners and members of Beth Abraham, said to the council, “They want to come into my community and say, ‘If you don’t do what we want you to do, we’ll sue you.’ That’s why I’ve never been so disgusted in my life.”

Applause rang through the chamber following his comments — the only time any remarks from the public elicited a response.

Cook said the new owners made it clear from the start that their first priority was “to find a new home for Beth Abraham.”

“After the (site) plan is put together, we will judge it all,” she said. “If it is turned down, they’ll come here with another plan that has Beth Abraham in Building C. That will never go away from this development. They are the owners and they own the initiative. Regardless of what we do tonight, there will be a synagogue in Building C.”

© 2006 The Dayton Jewish Observer


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