Kol Shofar optimistic about revised building proposal

Somewhere on the difficulty scale between “Winning a land war in Russia” and “Bringing peace to the Middle East” is “getting a major construction project OK’d in residential Tiburon.”

And yet, in the wake of a highly anticipated showdown before the Tiburon Town Council between Congregation Kol Shofar and opponents of the synagogue’s expansion plan, congregants are optimistic they’re on the right path to building the multi-use facility of their dreams.

“I think, bottom line, these proposals represent something we can live with,” said Ron Brown, a member of the synagogue’s building committee.

“This provides us with an opportunity to move forward.”

Faced with synagogue expansion opponents who claimed Kol Shofar’s plans would result in noise and traffic headaches and expansion proponents who charged that nixing their project would curtail religious freedom and violate federal law, Tiburon’s Town Council unanimously approved a compromised set of recommendations at a meeting Wednesday, Nov. 15.

Another meeting is scheduled for Jan. 17.

The council’s meticulously detailed proposal, in a nutshell, falls between Kol Shofar’s building plan and the scaled-down demands issued by the Tiburon Neighborhood Coalition in regards to the structural size, usage hours and parking capacity.

Members of the Tiburon Neighborhood Coalition did not return calls as of press time, but Brown said he’s optimistic about the compromise.

After Kol Shofar’s expansion bid was voted down by Tiburon’s Planning Commission in May, the synagogue obtained the backing of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm whose specialty is aiding religious institutions in building projects based on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a six-year-old federal law.

Significantly, Brown said he saw nothing in Tiburon’s Nov. 15 recommendations that infringed on Kol Shofar’s religious liberties.

And while Brown and others at Kol Shofar are not yet certain that every minor recommendation — and the Town Council inveighed on details such as red curbs and U-turn lanes — is to their liking, the overall package looks doable, especially on the key elements of the size of the facility and the number of times per year the synagogue can use it.

“In terms of space, the only change they’ve made from our original request was a reduction in the size of the multi-purpose building by 15 percent,” said Brown.

“I think we certainly can work with the physical space we will be allowed to build.”

As far as restrictions on usage, Brown said Kol Shofar’s current conditional use permit already comes equipped with myriad restrictions. (For example, the parking lot’s lights must be off at 10 p.m., with the exception of a couple of Jewish holidays that mandate late-night services.)

Between now and Jan. 17, Tiburon officials will codify the council’s suggestions into a formal resolution (“They’ll transform the documents into legalese,” joked Brown). That resolution could become Kol Shofar’s new conditional use permit and, down the road, pave the way for a building permit.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.