Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Controversial Hare Krishna temple back on the table

Planners to hear proposal to build 23,000-sq.-ft. religious center along Route 34

Staff Writer 

A contentious proposal to build a Hare Krishna religious center along Route 34 will come before the Old Bridge Township Planning Board on Dec. 6 amid continued concerns from residents.

The project, first submitted to the board in February 2009 by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness of central New Jersey, aims to construct an approximately 23,300-square-foot, one-story temple with a basement and 4,200-square-foot, two-family priest’s quarters on a 6.3-acre property along Route 34 between Highview Terrace and Sheila Court, according to the applicant’s attorney, Jonathan Heilbrunn.

The new proposal makes several changes from the original application, Heilbrunn said, and takes some past concerns into consideration.

The new ISKCON proposal significantly cuts the size of the temple — which originally was proposed to be 38,000 square feet — and changes some of the design of the building, Heilbrunn said. A dome that was originally proposed for the temple has been eliminated.

Heilbrunn said that the temple would stand at 35 feet high, which is permitted under the current zoning.

To move forward with the project, Heilbrunn said the group is requesting a variance regarding the landscaped area ratio, as well as a waiver to allow for a 50-foot buffer from Route 34.

Heilbrunn said that he is also working with the state Department of Transportation for approval of a driveway onto Route 34. The project is important for ISKCON, whose members have been practicing out of a rented facility in the township, Heilbrunn said.

“They want to have a home of their own,” he said.

But area residents continue to fight the project, forming the United Old Bridge Residents group and hiring attorney R. Bruce Freeman to represent them in the matter. Resident Sal D’Angelo said that while the temple is smaller than the one originally proposed, he still has problems with the location of the religious center.
“While this application is smaller than the previous one, the lot for this new temple project, a lot surrounded by hundreds of residential homes, on a two-lane road, is still a poor location,” D’Angelo said. “The board will consider the requested variances, and affected homeowners and community residents should question this large construction project plan.”

David Cannizzo said that with ISKCON traditionally hosting numerous festivals that attract large crowds, the Route 34 property is simply not the right place for the temple.

Cannizzo said there are many other places in Old Bridge along Route 18 and Route 9 that would be better for the religious center and be better in accommodating heavy traffic.

“We fully support them in their effort to practice their religion and grow their religion. We fully support them inside of Old Bridge,” he said. “But they are simply trying to squeeze something that really belongs on a 10-plus acre piece of land into a 4- or 5-acre plot.”

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