A contentious zoning struggle between Chabad of the Tri-Valley and neighbors and city planners in Pleasanton concluded last night with a conditional use permit granted to Chabad to build a playground and host a preschool, among other things.
“This is a very, very big, amazing victory,” said Chabad Rabbi Raleigh Resnick of the city council’s ruling at its April 16 meeting, adding, “We’re still sifting through some restrictions.”
The permit came with stipulations that appeared to take into consideration the fact that the Chabad center, located on Hopyard Road, abuts a residential neighborhood. Among them are stringent rules on the number of people who can congregate on a small outdoor patio, limitations on the use of outdoor sound amplification, and limiting playground use to 2.5 hours per day.
But on the major points — such as increasing Chabad’s indoor capacity to 250, striking an old master plan with an adjoining church and approving a preschool with an outdoor play area — the rabbi came away happy.
“It’s a joyous celebration,” Resnick said, pointing out that the unanimous decision from the five-person council came on what would have been the 117th birthday of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the former rebbe of the Chabad movement.
“The fact that it was on his birthday is amazing,” Resnick said. “He is the leader of everything we do.”
Chabad purchased the Pleasanton property for around $2.5 million in 2017. Part of its appeal was the ample outdoor space, ideal for a playground and other activities, Resnick said.
Some of Chabad’s plans have been met with vociferous opposition from local neighbors. In numerous hours-long zoning board meetings, city officials heard testimony from both sides.
Michael and Darlene Miller, homeowners who live near the Chabad site, have led the opposition to some of the plans — the couple spent hours crafting public statements, hired an attorney and found a sound engineer to design an outdoor sound wall to block playground noise.
Over time, though, and after several face-to-face meetings, Chabad formed a working relationship with the Millers and they came to agree on most points, according to Resnick. Chabad even agreed to build a sound wall.
Many of the thornier restrictions, which one public commenter suggested were a form of “religious discrimination,” came from city planners. No other religious institutions in the city have restrictions placed on the number of outdoor gatherings allowed per year, according to one city official, but opponents noted that few other religious institutions are situated next to a residential neighborhood.
“The restrictions came from the staff. From the city,” Resnick said. “It got a little technical. Limits on microphones? What about a string quartet accompanying a bride walking down the aisle?” he said. Chabad will be parsing the limitations and will work with the city to fully understand their implications.
“But the bottom line is that it was a very big milestone,” Resnick said. “We’ve been working toward this for a while. We’re finally able to utilize the building for the purpose that we bought it for.”