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)

Calendar of Events

November 2017
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A summary of the most recent hearing and all others to date.
Also going to the Media/Press section will give you other details.

 

17th meeting - February 13th

The meeting was called to order at 7pm and did not finish until 1am at Millburn High School. Here is what was done at this final session of the Zoning Board regarding The Chai Center case. Residents were allowed to finish asking the Rabbi questions. As soon as that was completed Chairman Steinberg and the attorney for the Board gave the ground rules for residents and interested parties to speak. Individuals from both sides were give up to 3 minutes to make their public statement. Approximately 50 people spoke. Then the Chairman and attorney gave the ground rules on how the 7 board members would votes on the various variances up for review. At the beginning of the meeting board member Roger Manshel recused himself and the alternate board member took his place. The bottom line was the Zoning Board just felt that needing 40% more land for such a large structure was not justified. They did not feel the applicant proved their case of mitigating the impact of having such a large building on an undersized piece of property. Lot size, traffic, setbacks and parking were the key issues in the end. While only about 100 people were in the auditorium at the end of the voting, perhaps as many as 300 to 400 attended all or part of the final hearing. The case was officially decided as the Board turned down the Chai Center applicant's request for multiple variances.

 

16th meeting -  January 30th

It was planned that residents would finally get a chance to speak out at this sesson. But instead the lawyers and final witnesses keep the statements and questions going for hours. Instead of ending at 11pm this meeting dragged on until almost midnigh without leaving time for residents to make statements. Perhaps the most important voice last night was that of the Township Planner Paul Phillips as he told members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment the items they should consider in making their decision on whether to approve or disapprove the variances The Chai Center has requested. From our association’s point of view, the negatives out weigh the positives even if a house of worship is considered to be of beneficial use. The Planner explained that the applicant has the obligation to show they can mitigate the negatives regarding the undersized property, traffic issues, parking issues, buffer issues, etc. The Rabbi also read off his list of stipulations he says The Chai Center is willing to agree to but lawyers and members of the Board questioned if they are in fact enforceable if variances are granted. The Chairman of the Zoning Board asked for a show of hands at the end of the meeting as to how many residents planned to speak out at the final meeting on Feb. 13th. By the time he asked the question the audience was reduced but many hands went up signifying their intention to speak at the final meeting. That meeting is scheduled for 7pm at Hartshorn School on Feb. 13th. While the Chairman has promised all residents and interested parties can speak out he will impose a strict 3 minute time limit on each statement. A local press story used the headline “Heat rises at Chai Center Hearing.” For about 30 seconds the meeting audience got a bit out of control  with comments coming from the audience until Chairman Steinberg threatened to clear the room.

 

15th meeting, November 21st - 

The last witnesses for those opposing The Chai Center will be called at the January 30th meeting (no meeting in December). This means that Millburn residents will be allowed to make public statements at the end of that meeting and at the February meeting. The location for those meetings has not been determined yet because it will have to be a bigger venue than Town Hall.

The Concerned Neighborhood Association called their last two witnesses at the November 21st meeting. The first, John Meyer, a long time planner and traffic expert, gave expert testimony that the parking for the proposed site is not adequate. He went into detail and also said parking on Jefferson Avenue for overflow was not safe as it is too narrow. He gave testimony that increased traffic would also effect the local area as Old Short Hills Road is already quite heavy during peak times. Also testifying on Monday, for the Association, was licensed professional planner, Brigette Bogart of 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. Bogart also said “D” variances were needed because the lot was undersized and 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. She said a house of worship must be located on a primary or secondary collector road to lessen the impact on local roads. She added 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 lawyer 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. This implied other uses and more parking needed.

 

14th meeting, October 31st - The first Trustee of The Concerned Neighborhood Association of Millburn Township was allowed to speak out against The Chai Center request to build an oversized structure. Trustee Robert Sanna testified that his organization, The Concerned Neighborhood Association, has been in existence since 2005 and now had over 150 supporters. He also testified that the impact, traffic, noise, etc. on the undersized property would be a hardship to the area and to the town. Architect Michael Soriano for the Association also testified. He testified under oath about the actual legal maximum of people that would be allowed if the new Chai Center structure were allowed to be built on the undersized property. Adding his figures together The Chai Center could have 1,216 people at one time in the structure and still be legal (if all variances were ultimately approved). The hearing opened with Zoning Chairman Steinberg reading the opinions of Board Planner Paul Phillips of the variances being requested by the applicant.

 

13th meeting September 26th- The entire four-hour session (7-11pm) was dedicated to this case. It was anticipated that The Chai Center Planner Paul Gleitz would finish being cross-examined by opposing lawyers and that the first expert witness for The Concerned Neighborhood Association of Millburn Township would be called. As it turned out, the entire session was spent with lawyers from both sides questioning Paul Gleitz. But before this cross-examination began, lawyer Kevin Coakley for the Association started off by saying that The Chai Center was back to needing 8 variances. The Chai Center thought they needed only one variance for building on an undersized piece of property. The Association opposing lawyers and the Zoning Board were also surprised that The Chai Center group did not bring back new plans since they have to adjust the plans based on the ruling from the August Zoning Board meeting. They were instructed to bring that new plan to the October meeting and to have it to Board Members well in advance of that meeting. Then Paul Gleitz was recalled. He gave testimony that the new ruling, requiring much more of a set back on Jefferson Ave and Old Short Hills Rd, would be a hardship and kept reminding the Board and residents that a religious institution is considered a “beneficial use”. Mr. Gleitz also testified that the plans for the oversized 16,350 square foot religious and cultural center would not be detrimental to neighbors or the area in general. The opposing lawyers both questioned this opinion for many reasons including: undersize property, additional traffic, parking on local streets, additional noise from affairs beyond pure religious services, etc. Since there was not time for the first expert witness from the Association, it is now expected that architect Mike Soriano will be called at the next meeting along with one of the Neighborhood Association Trustees, Robert Sanna. The October 31st planned meeting will be the 14th meeting since the case began back on April 12, 2010.

 

 12th meeting August 22nd. Planner Paul Gleitz was to appear and finish his testimony but did not show. Therefore, at the last minute, the Chairman of the Zoning Board asked that the Board hear testimony and discuss the appeal that lawyers for the Concerned Neighborhood Association had filed. The Zoning Officer had ruled earlier that The Chai Center would not need a variance when their new plans showed the proposed structure moving to the front of the property much closer to Jefferson Avenue. The town ruling says that a home or structure in this case has to be a minimum of 40 feet back or the average of the other buildings to the nearest street. The Zoning Officer had said since the current structures were going to be removed leaving only one house to the nearest street an average was not possible. The Board heard the evidence from plaintiff lawyer Kevin Coakley and also from a town enginner. The Board decided in favor of the appeal and overturned the previous decision meaning that The Chai Center will also need a variance since the average distance to the street is a lot more than what they proposed. One news story can be found at:


http://thealternativepress.com/articles/millburn-zoning-board-rules-chai-center-will-need---2

Eleventh meeting June 27th.
In an abbreviated session, The Chai Center attorney recalled Planner Paul Gleitz to give more testimony regarding the change in the plans. The height was lowered to comply with Town ordinances and the whole building itself was shifted forward on the property to avoid parking in the buffer zones near neighbors. Planner Gleitz continued to testify that only one variance was now required and that was because lot size is not legal. Parking he said might require a design waiver. He also said that a building of "beneficial use" is allowed to have more detrimental issues than a private home and he quoted legal cases. He added that traffic analysis showed no detrimental issues and overall there would be no negative impact on neighbors. He went on to state that they could add a school, a shelter and other accessory uses without coming back to the township for permission. Then the opposing lawyers quizzed the Planner looking for inconsistenancies in his testimony. Lawyer Kevin Coakley showed that all religious institutions in recent years were all over 3 acres even if some pre-1900 buildings were undersized. Coakley also tried to pin the Planner down on overflow parking estimated to be 12 times per year. The Planner said there were options but that parking at the Middle with overflow was not part of the application. The meeting ended at 11pm with Chairman Steinberg stating that there will be no meeting in July and he hoped most of the August 22nd meeting would be dedicated to The Chai Center case. Lawyer Coakley said he planned on call an architect as an expert witness and also the Trustees of the opposing Concerned Neighborhood Association of Millburn Township.

 

Tenth meeting: May 2nd - The Chai Center attorney recalled Site Engineer David Fantina and Architect  Larry Appel who showed a new footprint for the building moving it forward on the lot toward Jefferson Avenue and a lowering of the structure height. These witness said this would eliminate the need for two variances because of the side setback buffers and height requirements. It did nothing about the major variance because the new structure would be on only 1.815 acres and not the required 3 acres. The opposing lawyers stated that moving the building forward, or 57 feet from Jefferson, did not meet the average setbacks for homes in the area including the two that would be torn down. The lawyers also questioned the witnesses saying they would park additional overflow cars on the lawn  “once in a blue moon”. The lawyer for The Chai Center said they would be recalling the Planner Paul Gleitz to the June 27th to testify again regarding the changes.

 

Ninth meeting: February 7th. Planner Paul Gleitz was called back to give out his statistics in written form since the Board complained during the December meeting that he rattled off numbers to fast. When finished, he was cross-examined by the attorney representing neighbors Gail and Ciro Gamboni who oppose the application. Lamb questioned the planner’s numbers and said they did not give a clear picture of the “intensity” that an approval would cause. Lamb also questioned whether the landscaping in the illegal buffer was adequate. Lamb questioned the use saying he believed it would be a cultural center beyond just a house of worship. Lamb acknowledged that Gleitz said there were only 6 lots currently 3 acres or more in town but then asked if the applicant had looked into possible assemblages of two lots. Gleitz said no.

 

Eighth meeting: December 20th. Zoning Board of Adjustment heard from two Chai Center experts regarding the ongoing case to knock down two single family homes at 1 and 7 Jefferson Avenue and build a 16,350 total square foot orthodox synagogue. Architect Laurance Appel testified about a revised lighting plan and site planner Paul Gleitz testified regarding the site variance requests. Gleitz testified the applicant is seeking variances related to undersized property, building height, parking spaces in the buffer. The applicant is also seeking design waivers related to buffer requirements, landscaping patterns and land surfacing. Gleitz went on to testify that there are a number of houses of worship in the township operating on lots less than three acres but neglected to state that none of these houses were built within the past 100 years.


Seventh meeting: November 15th regarding the Chai Center case. Most of this meeting was a continuation of cross examination by lawyers of the Chai Center "expert" traffic witness Elizabeth Dolan and then the Rabbi was cross examined again. Lawyers for The Concerned Neighborhood Association of Millburn Township were intent on showing that the Rabbi has intentions of growing his congregation well beyond the current membership. Rabbi Bogomilsky said he was only willing to be at these hearings because of a lawsuit with the township. The settlement of the lawsuit required they seek zoning approval for a place to pray, he said. The Rabbi said they had not yet attempted to raise capital to build the large 16,350 structure and would wait until they had zoning board approval to do that.

 

Sixth meeting: October 25th, the Chai Center Rabbi was called back to testify but most of the meeting was a follow up with Traffic Engineer Elizabeth Dolan. The Zoning Board had asked her to return and give more information about traffic and parking. The Board was not satisfied with her limited report given on September 27th. Her report was based only on a one-hour study on one Saturday morning. By 11pm, the lawyers had not finished their questions. And zoning board members and residents had not asked theirs. It was agreed Ms. Dolan would appear at the November 15th meeting.

 

Fifth meeting: the took place on September 27th with the Chai Center architect being recalled to answer a few questions on outside lighting and signage. Then the only other witness was the Chai Center Traffic Engineer expert Elizabeth Dolan. Her report was limited to a study of one hour on a Saturday and the Zoning Board members asked her to come back to the next meeting with a more complete report. Her conclusion in her impact analysis was that additional traffic caused by the Chai Center services/meetings would not be an issue.

 

At the fourth meeting, the architect was the only witness as he discussed the plans and was quizzed by lawyers from both sides, the zoning board and residents.

 

Almost the entire third meeting consisted of lawyers and the Board asking the Chai Center's expert witness engineer David Fantina of Bernardsville many questions about the variances and waivers being requested.


At the first two Zoning Board of Adjustment meetings, Rabbi Mendel Bogomilsky presented his case to knock down two houses and build a 16,350 square-foot synagogue and religious community Chai center at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Old Short Hills Road in Short Hills.

 

The application is opposed by many of the neighbors and others in the township.

 

Go to the Media/Press section above to read local news reports.


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Photos from June 21st Zoning meeting

The Millburn Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing, regarding the Chai Center's attempt to have four zoning violations overturned, was held Monday evening June 21st at the Hartshorn School.


Photos from April 12th Zoning meeting

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