Kingsbury synagogue wins approval from Douglas commissioners
Douglas County’s first synagogue was approved on Thursday after commissioners spent hours hearing an appeal of their previous denial.
By the end of the hearing, commissioners voted 5-0 to overturn their April decision, conceding that the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion likely overrides the county’s parking requirements.
Douglas County planning commissioners approved 6-0 a special use permit for Chabad Lake Tahoe to conduct services at 255 Kingsbury Grade in February.
The original approval was not without its detractors, with two shops located in the building and the Kingsbury General Improvement District all speaking against the approval, citing parking.
In Douglas County, tourist commercial zoning would allow a business to use the upper story of the building without seeking a permit.
After receiving approval from the planning commission, the congregation paid $2.5 million for the building.
The two tenants, Blue Sky Events and Talie Jane Interiors appealed planning commissioners’ approval of the synagogue to county commissioners. Commissioners voted 3-2 to overturn the planning commission at their April 14 meeting, just eight days before Passover.
However, the synagogue appealed the appeal, saying that commissioners failed to consider the parking agreement they were required to obtain to deal with the shortage in parking. The neighboring Tahoe Regional Planning Agency agreed to provide overflow parking to the building for the four high holy days where the synagogue attendance might conflict with the tenants.
On Thursday, Natalie Yanish, who serves on the Kingsbury board, said that the district’s lease would allow it to renew after it expires in February 2024. Essentially the district, which is the building’s largest user, could be in the building until 2029.
Attorney Lew Feldman pointed out the Chabad could conduct cultural activities in the location, but to have religious services, they would require a special use permit.
“We would not need a special use permit for a cultural event,” Feldman said at the commission’s April 7 meeting. “We need a permit to pray.”
Under the approval, the synagogue was required to obtain the agreement for off-site parking for weekday special events during working hours.
Planning commissioners said they believed that the problems with parking are endemic to the Tahoe Basin and not just the site on Kingsbury Grade.
In the end, commissioners agreed that any additional business in that space would cause parking issues.
Jewish Nevada Chief Strategy Officer Julia Franks said her organization has been keeping track of the issue.
“We’ve been watching this situation very closely,” she said.
Resident Nick Miller said the parking issue would exist for any occupant of the space.
“They will actually use less parking since they walk,” he said. “Jews walk during the holidays as much as they can. They would use fewer cars than nearly any other business that would occupy the space.”
Commissioners Danny Tarkanian said he would have preferred the parties work out something instead of bringing it to the commissioners.
“There’s no doubt you will have an adverse impact, but so would any other business.”
Plans for the building are to renovate the upper floor for the synagogue, which would be done in October.
Services occur on Saturdays and on holy days, of which Feldman said there are four a year.
There are 25 members to the Chabad, which is an orthodox faith.
South Lake Tahoe is home to Temple Bat Yam, which is a reformed synagogue.
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