The former Three Bears Restaurant in Westport may officially become the new home of Chabad Lubavitch of Westport, a nonprofit Orthodox Jewish organization that has been operating out of the space at 79 Newtown Turnpike, without approval, since January.
Lawrence Weisman, an attorney for Chabad, presented a site plan and special permit application to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday night, seeking a change of use from restaurant to religious and approval of interior building renovations.
“We are planning modest renovations,” Weisman said. “We’re not doing anything to the outside of the building. We may paint it, we may do some cosmetic work, but it will look exactly as it does today.”
Under the plans, the interior of the building would be divided into sanctuary, classroom and office space, said Philip Cerrone of Cerrone Architects in Fairfield. A total of three classrooms are included in the plans.
Relocating the existing driveway and adding a second entrance to the parking lot are also proposed. Peter Romano of Land Tech Consultants said there are currently 75 parking spaces but only 63 are required. These extra parking spaces could be removed, Weisman said.
The presentation comes five months after Chabad was cited by the Planning and Zoning Department for occupying the building without a special permit. The citation was issued after a neighbor of the former restaurant, which closed in 2009, made a complaint.
Despite the initial controversy that surrounded the issue, there was little public comment on the plans. Most of the neighbors have expressed support of the plans, Weisman said. Amy Ancel, however, voiced concerns about added traffic and cars on High Holy Days such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. She also said she was concerned about light pollution.
Jake Sussman, who attends religious school at Chabad, supported the plans. He said its former location on Ketchum Street lacked a “foundation” for the Chabad community to grow.
“This building that we’re looking at, for the first time ever, opens the doors for this community to grow and, for our children to learn our religious backgrounds in a clean environment,” said Sussman, 17.
The commission took no action and will continue its review of these applications next Thursday at 7 p.m.