Somerton OKs congregation’s plan for residential property

— The Lub­avitch Cen­ter for Rus­si­an Je­w­ry plans to pur­chase a house on Bustleton Av­en­ue to use for wor­ship.

An Or­tho­dox Jew­ish con­greg­a­tion may soon be wor­ship­ing in­side an 87-year-old coun­try house in old Somer­ton.

The Somer­ton Civic As­so­ci­ation on Jan. 8 voted not to op­pose two zon­ing vari­ances sought by lead­ers of the Lub­avitch Cen­ter for Rus­si­an Je­w­ry for the dis­tinct­ive blue house at the corner of By­berry and Proc­tor roads. The plan was not without de­tract­ors, however, as both vari­ances passed the SCA mem­ber­ship by close vot­ing mar­gins.

The Lub­avitch Cen­ter is now based at 13070 Bustleton Ave., but plans to buy and in­hab­it the 2,400-square-foot, three-story home. The wood-frame struc­ture sits on a .82-acre par­cel of land and formerly housed a doc­tor’s of­fice, in ad­di­tion to res­id­en­tial space.

Rabbi Sho­lom Gold­schmid heads the con­greg­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to Jack Bien­en­feld, who iden­ti­fied him­self as a friend of the rabbi and presen­ted the plans on his be­half.

In the long term, the con­greg­a­tion hopes to build a 40- by 60-foot, single-story ad­di­tion to the house for use as wor­ship space. The group also plans to ex­pand a 19-vehicle private park­ing lot on the prop­erty to ac­com­mod­ate 23 vehicles.

The city’s De­part­ment of Li­censes and In­spec­tions denied the con­greg­a­tion ne­ces­sary per­mits for the changes be­cause re­li­gious wor­ship is not a per­mit­ted use for res­id­en­tial prop­er­ties un­der the zon­ing code and be­cause the pro­posed park­ing lot ex­pan­sion would ex­tend too close to the prop­erty’s bound­ary lines. The 60-by-40 ad­di­tion is per­mit­ted as a mat­ter of right.

Ac­cord­ing to Bien­en­feld, the con­greg­a­tion is re­l­at­ively small, prob­ably few­er than 60 mem­bers, and is not ex­pec­ted to grow drastic­ally. Mem­bers walk to ser­vices on the Sab­bath, which be­gins sun­down Fri­day and ends sun­down Sat­urday.

Some neigh­bors ques­tioned the wis­dom of draw­ing more traffic of any kind to an in­ter­sec­tion already flooded with cars routinely. Plus, there are two churches on the same stretch of Proc­tor Road, in­clud­ing St. Chris­toph­er’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Church. There are no side­walks along Proc­tor Road.

The house will con­tin­ue to serve as a single-fam­ily dwell­ing, too, Bien­en­feld said. The con­greg­a­tion’s pur­chase of the prop­erty is pending, sub­ject to zon­ing ap­provals.

SCA mem­bers voted 21-17 not to op­pose re­li­gious ser­vices on the site and 19-16 not to op­pose the park­ing lot ex­pan­sion. The civic as­so­ci­ation did not re­port ab­sten­tions for the votes.

In un­re­lated busi­ness, Phil­adelphia Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams en­cour­aged SCA mem­bers to pro­tect them­selves against crime by lock­ing the doors and win­dows to their homes and cars, and by leav­ing a light on in­side the house to de­ter burg­lars from tar­get­ing it.

One SCA mem­ber asked Wil­li­ams why he has chosen to with­draw charges in dozens of nar­cot­ics cases in­vest­ig­ated by the Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment’s Nar­cot­ics Field Unit South.

Wil­li­ams said that he has fol­lowed the U.S. At­tor­ney’s lead in re­fus­ing to use cer­tain nar­cot­ics of­ficers as wit­nesses in court pro­ceed­ings. When pressed on what the of­ficers did to war­rant the re­fus­al, Wil­li­ams said, “Be­cause of their his­tory.”

The pro­sec­utor did not elab­or­ate on that his­tory. The po­lice de­part­ment has ac­know­ledged trans­fer­ring six mem­bers of the nar­cot­ics unit after Wil­li­ams’ of­fice de­clared it would no longer con­sider them for court testi­mony. The six have not been charged with any crim­in­al wrong­do­ing and have not been dis­cip­lined form­ally by the po­lice de­part­ment. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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