Friday, June 7, 2013

Hare Krishna Temple Hearing Nears Completion Before Zoning Board

ParsippanyPatchThe application for a proposed temple at the intersection of Baldwin and Troy roads inched closer to completion Wednesday with continued testimony from expert witnesses at a Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting.
The application, which calls for a Hare Krishna temple designed by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), has been before the board for the past four years. A host of opponents have fought the project, among them owners of historic homes in the area and businesses such as Baldwin Ventures. They say the ISKCON plan would erode their quality of life and bring noise and traffic to an already congested area.
Resident Dudley Kimball, who owns the nearest historic house with his sister, Jane, testified before the board as to the historical importance of the neighborhood. The Kimballs, who are opposed to the development, are represented by attorney Gary Hall.
“Our fundamental, core concern is the preservation of what little is left of historic Parsippany,” said Kimball. “It is our fervent belief that the temple contemplated by the applicant is simply too large to fit on the subject premises and that it will therefore destroy the heart and essence of this small, but incredibly rich area of historic Parsippany.”
Kimball continued to outline his family's history in the township dating back to 1733. Their house, which is located directly across from the proposed property, has been owned by the family for generations and is at least 215 years old, he said.
Professional Planner Peter Steck also continued his expert testimony on behalf of the opposition during the Wednesday night meeting. During cross-examination, Steck and Robert Garofalo, of Garofalo and O'Neill, the law firm representing ISKCON, could not come to an agreement as to the number of stories reflected in the plans.
Steck said he takes issue with the number of mezzanines for the proposed temple. A township ordinance defines a story as that which takes up occupiable space, said Steck.
Garofalo said that because the mezzanines will be used as storage, they are not considered occupiable space and should not be considered a story. The proposed temple would be a two-story building, he said. 
“As initially proposed there was a different label on the plans,” said Steck. “In my opinion, changing the label doesn't change the height of the building.”
Discussion continued into the discrepancy over the number of parking variances required by the proposal. Steck maintained that the application requires variances for parking in the front yard as well as parking around the building.
Eric Keller, a civil engineer with a specialty in traffic engineering, spoke as an expert witness for the applicant to address parking concerns.
“Based on the township code, 118 parking spaces are required,” he said. “The application proposed 143. The amount of parking exceeds what the township code requires.”
Keller reviewed the Institute of Traffic Engineers (ITE) standards for determining required parking.
“It says gross floor area is not necessarily the most appropriate variable to use because there is a lot of variation on the size of the facility depending on the size of the congregation,” he said.
Because a temple has many spaces not dedicated to worship space, like offices, classrooms, support facilities, multipurpose rooms and kitchens, it would be more appropriate to base the number of parking spaces based on the number of attendees, he said.
“The parking is more than adequate for this use and to accommodate the growth of congregation,” said Keller.
The hearing is nearing its end, with only two more meetings scheduled. The next meeting will be held on July 17, in which Garofalo will bring in his final witness, Madana Gapola, a trustee of the temple.
The final meeting is scheduled for August 7 for closing statements, public comment, and possibly a final ruling from the board.

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