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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Christy Potter Kass - The Alternative Press

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

 

MILLBURN, NJ --The size of the front yard of the proposed Chai Center and the yards of the neighboring homes were brought under the Millburn Zoning Board’s microscope during a hearing Monday night.

The hearing on the proposed Chai Center for Living Judaism, heading into its 18th month before the board, focused on the center’s proposed front yard setback and how it compares to the homes that created the setback average.

Board chairman Joseph Steinberg asked Chai Center attorney Larry Kron whether the defense’s experts have done their due diligence to determine the setback of the three structures that are there currently, and if they are prepared to submit those plans. Kron answered yes to both.

 

The hearing opened with a debate over whether or not a revised notice was required to be published prior to Monday night’s hearing – attorneys for the complainants said it was required, Kron said as it was a continuation of the previous hearing so no further notice was required.

 

Board Attorney Gail Frasier said that after the Aug. 22 hearing, she contacted Kron and suggested the defendants submit any variances – both variances that are definitely needed, and any that may not ultimately be applicable. Kron and his clients have not done that, she said.

 

Steinberg ruled that the hearing could proceed. It focused on a cross-examination of Gleitz, who gave his testimony during the previous hearing.

 

Frasier said the ultimate conclusion of the board is that the two homes that would be demolished to make way for the Chai Center should be considered in calculating what the established front yard setback is along the street. That decision will be memorialized by resolution on Oct. 3.

 

Gleitz said the existing front yard setback for one of the existing homes is 158.5 feet to Jefferson Avenue. The setback from the other home is 159.3 feet to Jefferson, and the setback from Old Short Hills Road is 46.9 feet. Gleitz said based on the average of those measurements, the applicant has proposed a 57.1 foot setback to Jefferson Avenue and 40.26 feet to Old Short Hills Road. The base front yard setback is 40 feet.

 

The two properties whose owners are protesting the proposal have setbacks of approximately 111 feet and 140 feet respectively.

 

Gleitz said the applicant cannot develop the property for the intended use given the setbacks required by the adjacent properties, which he called “large” and which he said offer no real uniformity on Old Short Hills.

 

“On Jefferson Avenue, we have a little more uniformity but there could be some question and interpretation of what uniformity is,” he said.

 

The planner testified that the average setbacks would burden the applicant as he would be denied the use of a large portion of his property.

 

“When you have homes set that far back on their property, it creates hardships for applicants coming in,” Gleitz said. He argued that the Chai Center is a beneficial use and satisfies the criteria for a positive use.

 

Kevin Coakley, attorney for the opposing community members, shifted his line of questioning to the proposed parking situation, asking Gleitz about the testimony previously given by the defense’s traffic expert. He questioned whether 50 parking spaces are still considered sufficient.

 

Gleitz said the plan does not involve any overflow parking in buffer adjacent to the two neighboring properties.

Coakley said the traffic expert based her testimony on that there would be overflow parking at middle school.

“We have always anticipated there would be High Holy Days when there will be more than 50 cars on site,”Gleitz said. “We tried to be proactive for onsite and off-site overflow parking. We were chastised so we came up with straightforward plan for onsite parking only.”

 

Coakley asked how Gleitz could say the Chai Center wouldn’t be detrimental to the area when he hasn’t been there during a major event.

 

“It’s quiet throughout week, after hours,” Gleitz said. “There is sufficient buffering, sufficient landscaping, and a house of worship is not incompatible with residential areas. I think the governing body is clear that our job is to show that it’s not necessarily incompatible and that we can address their questions with our plan.”

 

Coakley reviewed numbers previously submitted by Rabbi Mendel Bogomilsky to show how many people attend surrounding synagogues regularly, and how many people attend services during the High Holy Days, from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur.

 

Gleitz said the Chai Center is for a specialized congregation, which practices a specific form of orthodoxy that doesn’t lend itself to growth that way a more traditional synagogue would. He added that while there will be more traffic to and from the facility than there presently is on the site, it will not significantly impact traffic in the area and that two driveways have been removed so there is no access to the facility from Jefferson.

 

“It makes no sense to say it’s not a detriment to have 40 cars where there once were six,” Coakley responded.

 

“I can’t see a substantial detriment to Jefferson Avenue,” Gleitz said.

 

In his cross-examination, John Lamb, attorney for the opposition, asked what the Gambonis would be able to see from their home. Gleitz said the view would be of the western façade with its intended landscaping. The northern façade is the building’s main entrance.

 

Board member James Clark asked how the board should reconcile the fact that Gleitz testified that the proposed Chai Center would be a beneficial use, when the two neighbors are saying it isn’t.

 

Gleitz said the definition of “beneficial use” was created for that very reason: to keep everyone from protesting “Not in my backyard” with every proposed construction.

 

“This was done to help reconcile that, so that structures like hospitals, houses of worship and affordable housing,” he said. “There is a greater public need for these. House of worship have less of a negative impact than some of those others. We’ve done our best to show that there won’t be a substantial negative impact.”

 

Rabbi Bogomilsky showed the board two pictures of trees he has planted as a buffer around the property, and the opposing attorneys said the trees would not be high enough at maturity to completely hide the Chai Center from their clients’ view.

 

The board requested a full report from the township's independent professional planner to be submitted no later than Oct. 17. The next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 31.

 

 

 

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