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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TheAlternativePress.com

by Elizabeth A. Leonard Tuesday, June 28 2011

 

MILLBURN, NJ -- The Millburn Zoning Board of Adjustment continued its hearings of the Chai Center during Monday’s meeting. The Chai Center has proposed the construction of a house of worship at 1-7 Jefferson Avenue in Short Hills. The meetings in regard to this application have gone on for several months and have provoked serious opposition from many of the residents of Millburn/Short Hills, chiefly Mr. and Mrs. Gambino whose property neighbors the site and The Concerned Neighborhood Association of Millburn Township, Inc.

 

On Monday, the applicant submitted revised plans as per requests from the Board during the last meeting on May 2nd. According to Larry Kron, attorney for the Chai Center, the only “contention at this point is the variance we require is the D3” which is the ordinance that states that a house of worship must be built on a 3 - acre lot. The Jefferson Avenue property is only 1.8 acres. Mr. Kron proceeded by asking the Board if this could be confirmed, but Board Chairman, Steinberg told Mr. Kron after consulting with Board Attorney, Fraser, that the applicant should proceed with its case based on what the zoning officer had told them.

 

Mr. Kron brought forward Mr. Paul Gleitz who is the planner for the applicant, as his final witness, to provide testimony regarding the changes made to the plan. Among some of the changes made was the inclusion of a 20 ft. emergency egress out of the parking lot as suggested by Board Member Manshel.  During his testimony, Mr. Gleitz informed the Board that the new plan would include increased noise buffers with landscaping and a reduced building height. He reiterated Kron’s statement that the applicant now only needed one variance in terms of the lot size. To this end, he shared information regarding laws surrounding houses of worship and their “inherently beneficial” nature to a neighborhood by way of community gatherings, education, and service, among other things. According to Mr. Gleitz, therefore, the onus is not on the applicant to prove its benefits to the neighborhood but rather any negative impact it may have. He then testified that he sees no negative impact.

 

The opposition’s attorney, Mr. Lamb, first cross examined Mr. Gleitz on his testimony regarding the changes to the plans. Mr. Lamb continued to ask Mr. Gleitz whether the location of a building could be “detrimental to an adjacent property,” even if all variances were approved. Mr. Steinberg stepped in however, first to tell Mr. Lamb that he did not see “the point of the question,”  and then to say that if the Board determined that the applicant can build at the site, it “wouldn’t matter whether your client liked it or not.”

Mr. Lamb then continued on another line of questioning that Mr. Steinberg later interrupted. Lamb asked Gleitz if the new buffers took into account the trees and roots of the neighboring Gambino property. Mr. Gleitz explained that according to the law, landscaping plans will work around the existing trees and then offered to change the landscaping plan if it was required.

 

The applicant, Rabbi Mendel Bogomilsky advised Mr. Kron that he would be willing to have the Gambinos review the landscaping plans in order to come to an agreement regarding the installment of the new landscaping. This did not seem to satisfy Mr. Lamb who continued this line of questioning much to the evident frustration of the members of the Board. Mr. Steinberg finally interrupted to say that the witness was “brought on as a planning witness and not as an arborist or a landscaper. . . so get on with it.” Ms. Fraser did assure both parties by saying that the Board has sent out a forester to work with applicants in the past to ensure that there is no disturbance to the landscaping of neighboring properties.

 

Since the opposition’s attorney, Kevin Coakley, had not previously cross examined Mr. Gleitz, he began his questioning on Monday night. Mr. Coakley presented elements from Mr. Gleitz’s original testimony with particular regard to other houses of worship that the applicant has looked to for Board approvals. Mr. Coakley informed Mr. Gleitz that of all of the houses of worship presented that were on lots smaller than 3 acres, most were built before 1902.Coakley also stated that the law regarding the 3- acre lot size was first implemented in 1984.

 

One of Coakley’s main areas of focus in his questioning was related to parking. He asked several questions of Mr. Gleitz about a tandem parking area or street parking, but Mr. Gleitz felt that they “are relying on the improved 50 spaces.” Gleitz also shared the fact that as an Orthodox Jewish center, the growth of the congregation over time would probably be limited, and many members of the congregation would be encouraged to walk which would limit the impact of traffic and parking.

 

Coakley also asked Gleitz about the number of doors within the structure. According to the architect’s testimony during previous meetings, only one door was necessary, but there are four 6 ft. doors proposed. Gleitz agreed that by law only one door was necessary, but reminded everyone, “We’re not dealing with a school cafeteria, this is a sanctuary, a sacred place.” According to Gleitz, the added doors could be not only for esthetic purposes, but might also allow for a “more stately flow”.

 

Coakley ended this portion of his cross examination there at 11 PM and will continue at the next meeting on August 22nd. Mr. Steinberg made a formal announcement about the meeting and added that the Board might have to hear some other residential case but assured everyone in attendance, “We’re going to get finished with this case.”

 

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