OLEAN — It will be another month, but residents will get a chance to sound off on whether or not to convert the city’s synagogue into a community theater.
The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals set a public hearing on the variance for 5:35 p.m. Aug. 8 on a use variance filed by Temple B’nai Israel, at 127 S. Barry St., to allow a community theater to use the building in preparation of sale to Olean Community Theatre.
The hearing was originally expected for Thursday, but the ZBA did not have a quorum for the June 27 meeting when the hearing was to be set. City code requires publishing notices at least 10 days in advance of a ZBA hearing. In anticipation of the official action, the notice was issued in advance of the meeting, however, and was published in the Times Herald on July 1 and 3.
Several OCT officials attended the meeting Thursday briefly, but none spoke publicly while being informed of the timetable change. Several community members attended to support the groups.
Quorum officials have occasionally delayed ZBA efforts in recent years. The board has seven seats, but one seat has been vacant for many months. And in this case, board member Darryl Bloom recused himself from the deliberations as he is a member of the temple’s congregation.
At the meeting, ZBA members encouraged anyone interested in the open seat to contact the mayor’s office at the Olean Municipal Building.
Officials with both groups tout the value to the community to keep the building — listed on the National Register of Historic Places — in use.
At its height, around 70 families were members of the congregation, but the membership has declined since the middle of the 20th century, temple officials previously told the Times Herald.
Theater officials, who noted the group is turning 40 this year, hope to establish a permanent home for the group. The building would serve as a performance space for smaller productions, rehearsal space for shows done at larger venues, and storage space for the many costumes and props held by the group. Minimal changes are planned, the most visible being a ramp to make the building Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant.
The zoning issue, which both groups hope to get sorted out this summer before hopefully closing the deal later in the year, comes from the synagogue’s location at the edge of a Residential 3 use district, which restricts the placement of theaters. However, properties across Barry Street and just a few parcels to the north are in the City Center use district, which allows for theaters.
Olean’s Jewish congregation dates back to 1882, using rented or borrowed spaces for worship. The structure was built in 1929, with the congregation moving the sacred Torah to the site shortly thereafter. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. OCT was founded in 1979, putting on more than 100 productions since, according to the group’s website.