This proposed 16,350 square foot house of worship would require
65% more land than owned to meet the legal requirements.
The structure would be too big, too high, too wide, too close to neighbors,
and without a major variance, would not be legal.

Contributions can be made to:
Connell Foley LLP
Attorney Trust Account
Please mail check to:
Connell Foley LLP
85 Livingston Avenue
Roseland NJ 07068,
Attn: Kevin J. Coakley
(Funds only distributed with consent of the Association's trustees)

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 Bob Faszczewski

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 • 6:17am

 

MILLBURN, NJ - The Millburn Board of Adjustment, after approximately 21 meetings thus far, may decide early next year on the fate of the proposed Chai Center synagogue on Jefferson Avenue in the Short Hills section of the township.

Rabbi Mendel Bogomilsky wants to tear down the residence on property at 1 and 7 Jefferson Avenue in addition to a house on an adjoining lot in order to build a 16,350 square foot synagogue on the 1.8-acre lot.

 

Millburn’s zoning ordinance requires a minimum three-acre lot for construction of a house of worship in a residential area.

 

At Monday’s meeting, testimony continued from witnesses called by attorneys for those opposed to the application.

 

The next zoning body meeting concerning the matter, on December 19, only will focus on announcement of the times and locations of what are expected to be the final meetings on the Chai Center.

 

According to Board Chair Joseph Steinberg, at that meeting, at 7pm in Town Hall, the adjustment board will announce the time and location of its January 30 session and any sessions in February needed to wrap up the case.

 

John Lamb, attorney for residents who live near the center site and are opposed to its expansion, is expected to present his final witness in January. Also slated to testify once again is Township Planner Paul Phillips. Then members of the public will be permitted to make statements for or against the proposal.

 

Meanwhile, Monday’s hearing focused on the planning and safety of the parking area proposed for the Chai Center site and what kind, if any, variances are required for the parking lot.

 

Kevin Coakley, attorney for the organization opposed to the synagogue expansion—the Concerned Neighborhood Association of Millburn, Inc.—called on John Meyer, a licensed professional engineer from Armonk, NY, who is an expert on parking.

 

“The parking proposed for this site is inadequate for the use planned for the property,” Meyer said.

 

He added although the Chai Center’s application says only 148 people will be accommodated in the sanctuary of the new facility the large wall proposed to separate the sanctuary from the social center will be retractable to make way for a large social hall,

 

Meyer noted a report by Michael Soriano, an architect for the neighborhood group, showed about 60 non-permanent seats could be added to the permanent seats in the sanctuary, thus creating a requirement for 20 additional parking spaces in the proposed lot.

 

The engineer also testified he had a concern that no on-street parking would be available on Jefferson Avenue.

 

Additionally, he cited data from five Jewish congregations in the area that indicated an average of 750 worshippers could be expected to come to services during the High Holydays.

 

The engineer also said the 20-foot width of Jefferson Avenue was not adequate for the two lanes of traffic expected to enter the synagogue lot and a width of 32 to 36 feet normally is required.

 

As for the number of spaces required, he said one standard set by the Institute for Transportation is gross floor area for the particular use. Using the standard of 11.3 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet, according to Meyer, the parking requirement for the Chai Center site would be 185 spaces, whereas the applicant has proposed 50 spaces.

 

Another standard used by the parking engineering group, he said, takes into account information from traffic engineering firms such as his own based on traffic counts, parking accumulation studies and other data. Using this standard, the engineer said, with .7 spaces per attendee, the site should be required to provide 104 spaces for 148 attendees.

 

He also said the proposed parking area allowed with little maneuvering room and about half as much “turnaround” room as desired in a parking area, along with no area for dropping off of passengers.

 

Meyer also said the increased traffic coming to and from the site would decrease the rating of intersections in the area from the more desirable “c” or “d” rating to the least desirable “e” rating.

 

Responding to Larry Kron, attorney for the Chai Center, Meyer said even if the Millburn ordinance does not require drop-off areas in a parking lot they should be provided for safety reasons.

 

The engineer did say he did not know of similar uses in the area with similar parking requirements. He also was unsure of the Jewish houses of worship that he was asked to provide studies for were Orthodox, like the proposed center.

 

Orthodox services, according to Kron, require less external audio equipment outside the sanctuary area.

 

Meyer also noted he had focused on the Chai Center application and had not studied how Millburn calculated the parking requirements for other houses of worship.

 

He added, however, that the five-foot turning radius for cars leaving the center to make a right onto Jefferson Avenue would be inadequate and 24 feet was the desired radius. This desired turning radius, he noted, would have to be larger for mini vans or garbage trucks collecting from the dumpsters proposed for the parking lot.

 

The engineer also said he was concerned ambulances entering the parking lot to attend to a sick or injured person in the center would have a tough time, particularly if the parking aisles were not clear, but could use the handicapped parking spaces to reach the center.

 

Although fire engines using both parking lanes could get to the center, he added, cars milling around could block their way. Also police patrol cars responding to “fender benders” in the lot might have to drive the opposite way of traffic.

 

Meyer did tell Kron, however, that he was aware that the township fire marshal had reviewed the plans for the center.

 

Kron also noted the center had changed its plans based on suggestions made by the fire marshal.

 

Responding to Lamb, Meyer said if the center catered a wedding with 150 guests about 105 parking spaces would be required, without including employees of the catering service or accounting for extra spaces to be taken up by catering trucks.

 

The engineer did say if an extra acre was added to the site and less landscaping was done 85 to 100 parking spaces possibly could be added.

 

Responding to resident Ed Mazer, Meyer said he was not aware if, in calculating parking requirements for other houses of worship in Millburn, all buildings on those properties or simply the sanctuaries were included.

 

He added he was not sure if his traffic calculations would be different if he took into account the fact that Millburn public schools were closed on the High Holidays and, therefore, school buses would not be traveling on the roads near the center.

 

Also, he said he did not take into account that the center’s services would be held during off-peak traffic periods.

 

The engineer did agree with the applicant’s traffic expert, who said the level of service at intersections would decrease with the increased traffic from the center.

 

Also testifying on Monday for the neighborhood association was license professional planner, Brigette Bogart of Burgis Associates of Westwood.

 

She contended the applicant had not provided adequate seating figures for such areas as the social hall and other rooms outside the sanctuary. Therefore, the applicant was not giving the zoning board the information it needed to determine if parking variances were required.

 

Although Kron contended Bogomilsky had supplied this information in his previous testimony, the planner said the board should have it on the site plan or application for its records.

 

Bogart also said “D” variances were needed because the lot was 1.88 acres, where a minimum of three acres is required and the undersized lot was not sufficient to accommodate the planned uses.

 

She added Millburn has not permitted houses of worship to build on lots of less than three acres since 1902.

 

In addition, she said, even though houses of worship are conditional uses in residential zones, they must be located on a primary or secondary collector road and township planners built in this requirement because they wanted to lessen the impact on local roads.

 

The planner added, however, the site could accommodate a smaller house of worship. She could not cite the size of such a smaller house of worship on Monday, but promised to provide that information later.

 

Although houses of worship are permitted uses, she noted, the board is allowed to consider the visual impact on the surrounding neighborhood, the overall impact of the parking and the impact of overflow traffic that cannot be handled in the parking area.

 

Also, responding to a question by Coakley, she said she was concerned by testimony by the rabbi that the sanctuary only would take up about 11%  of the 16,350 square foot building.

 

Bogart wondered why someone would construct such a large facility and propose not to engage 89% of it in its principal use.

 

http://thealternativepress.com/articles/chai-center-decision-in-millburn-possible-by-janu-5

 

Save Millburn is the name for the local, registered, non-profit group,
The Concerned Neighborhood Association of Millburn Township, Inc. - Email Help@SaveMillburn.com