Danville Express

Newsfront - September 7, 2007

Planners OK portables for Beth Chaim

Designers made recommendations for attractive classrooms

by Jordan M. Doronila

The Town Planning Commission approved Beth Chaim Congregation's application last week to place three portables for learning next to its new spiritual home on Holbrook Drive near Sycamore Valley Park in Danville.

The portables are approximately 24 by 60 feet, and will be used for children's religion classes, weekday Hebrew and adult education programs.

"We are really glad to make this happen," said Martin Fishman, Beth Chaim president. "Now we are going to execute our educational infrastructure."

"It provides good Jewish learning in a singular location after years of operating as nomads," he added.

The buildings will be placed on the congregation's hill, at the corner of Beth Chaim's courtyard and from the slope's lip, which goes down to Camino Tassajara. The portables will be present for several years, and there is no timetable for erecting a permanent education facility due to financial and economic reasons, Fishman said.

All the portables are scheduled to be moved to the synagogue by the last week of September, and they will operational by Oct. 4. The project costs around $350,000.

The commissioners reviewed the application in July and expressed concerns that the portables would likely stay at the synagogue longer than five years. They asked Beth Chaim to make them aesthetically pleasing and directed its representatives to seek guidance from the Design Review Board.

"We appreciate the input," Fishman said. "We want to make sure it really looks good."

After consulting with the board, Fishman said they will be adding new landscaping in front of the portables; moving one portable back so it is not too visible; buying shorter buildings; and putting in trellis structures with trumpet vines and screening the portables with landscaping.

"These are the conditions of the approval," Fishman said. "We are going to follow the letter of the law. It costs us more money, but that's what we've got to do."

A neighbor living nearby complained to the Planning Commission that the portables would be in her back yard and would affect her property values.

Fishman said Beth Chaim wants to be good neighbors.

"We will provide some beautiful landscaping," he said. "We will mitigate against any visibility. At the slope bottom, you can't see them (portables) at all."

He noted the portables, once placed, would house classes two afternoons a week, running from 4 to 6-7 p.m. Additionally, Sunday classes would be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"We are talking about minimal usage," he said.

Beth Chaim members celebrated the grand opening of their new 8,000-foot synagogue in June. The facility is used for regular services and to celebrate weddings, births and honoring deaths of loved ones.

Beth Chaim serves the spiritual needs of more than 250 families. The synagogue contains a large space that will be used as a sanctuary and a social hall. The facility has 450 seats, an administrative wing, a conference room, a kitchen and a bookstore.

Additionally, it has a 10,000-square-foot courtyard overlooking the hills in Danville.

Rabbi Dan Goldblatt said the first phase, which cost $10 million, is completed. Beth Chaim eventually will erect buildings for a separate sanctuary and for religious education.

Beth Chaim is the only major Jewish congregation in the San Ramon Valley, Goldblatt said, and it has never had a home. It used the Danville Congregational Church on San Ramon Valley Boulevard for worship for the past seven to eight years.

Approximately 250 families of the congregation donated $1.5 million collectively since April 2006 to fund the project. Developer Nathan Shapell, a Holocaust survivor, donated $1 million to help finance the synagogue, keeping a promise to match fund if the congregation raised $1 million.

Beth Chaim Congregation is 29 years old. A group of retired Jewish elders started as a fellowship in 1978 and met a church in Pleasant Hill. In 1985, it moved to Danville.

Its members found five acres, which were owned by Ed Holbrook, on Holbrook Drive, and raised money and purchased the acreage.

"We finally have the ability to accommodate all of our needs," Fishman said.

Contact Jordan M. Doronila at jdoronila@DanvilleWeekly.com


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