Thursday, October 4, 2012

Controversial ISKCON Temple Plan Back Before Zoning Board

Parsippany Patch: The question of whether to permit the construction of a Hare Krishna temple at Baldwin and Troy roads appeared again before Parsippany's Zoning Board of Adjustment Wednesday as testimony resumed on the application by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
A full house, including many ISKCON members, attended the meeting at2 Town Hall for what turned into another contentious gathering on the matter, which has been under ZBA consideration for more than three years.
And it likely won't be the last: As the meeting went past 10 p.m., Vice President George Kimmey, presiding in President Robert Iracane's absence, adjourned the session noting that the temple case would pick up where it left off when the board meets again Oct. 17.
The deliberation started with a debate over a related letter written by Planning Board planner Edward J. Snieckus Jr. of Burgis Associates that was introduced at the board's July 12 meeting. At that time, President Iracane opted not to deal with the missive, saying that Snieckus had no jurisdiction with the zoning board.
Attorney Joel Murphy, representing Baldwin Ventures, a business on Baldwin Road, brought up the letter Wednesday, asking the board to subpoena Snieckus to come in and testify regarding the document's contents.
Robert Garofalo, ISKCON's lawyer, loudly objected.
"It has no relevance, you can't accept it," he said. "You have no right to accept it. It's hearsay."
"This isn't a stranger," Murphy argued. "It's a planner on a fellow township board. For this board not to care what your planning board planner has to say..."
Board member Saurin Pathak interjected.
"We didn't solicit that letter," he said.
"Don't you want to know what it says?" asked Murphy.
"It doesn't matter," Garofalo insisted. "I can't cross-examine, I disapprove of this vehemently."
"The board gets reports all the time and they are not called in," said George Johnson, the ZBA attorney.
"That's why I'm asking to call him [to testify]," said Murphy. "This is a township agency that submitted a letter. You can read it and dismiss it, but I would like, on the behalf of the objectors, to have an opportunity to question him to see if he says something of interest in this case."
"I don't disagree with that," said Johnson, "but this is a little unusual to receive this kind of a report. Let me look into it and the board will make a decision."
Pathak wondered aloud as to how the letter was generated.
"I want to know who authorized that letter," he said. "Who's instigating this? Who paid for it? As a board member, I have a right to know."
Johnson ended the matter, saying enough had been heard on the issue.
After the meeting, the attorney told Patch he had no idea who ordered Snieckus to write the letter or if the planner was commenting after looking through applications.
Snieckus could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
The rest of the evening focused on the opposition's case.
At the July 12 meeting, resident Jane Kimball, who lives in the historic Kimball-Baldwin house on Troy Road, testified that the proposed temple's appearance, size and planned uses would be out of character for the area, which now includes historic residences, professional buildings and the Parsippany Police Athletic League building.
Kimball returned to the witness chair for a blistering cross-examination by Garofalo.
The attorney asked Kimball to recount her objections to the temple project. She refused, telling him to check the transcripts of her July 12 testimony. He continued on:
"Are you concerned about the possible impact on the historical significance of your residence?"
"I can't answer yes or no," she said, sounding increasingly frustrated. "I'm not trying to be argumentative. ...  The parcel that the temple has purchased is too small for what they would like their temple to be. The traffic around there is already terrible. Refer back to the transcript."
He continued to badger her with questions, pushing Kimball until she blasted him for being "a very argumentative person."
Garofalo refused to give an inch.
"One of your concerns is that the temple may have an impact on your historic home?"
"I think it would have an impact on the historic homes in the area," she said.
"You referred to impact on 'the usability of the house.' Isn't that one of your concerns?"
"Yes," Kimball said, "and there are other concerns as well."
"When the town re-zoned your property to [permit offices], did you make objections to the town when it happened?"
"It was a long time ago," she said. "My parents were there, they were elderly. I don't know when that re-zoning occurred."
"Wasn't the construction of the PAL a change in the neighborhood?"
"Yes, it was but that's down Baldwin Road," she answered.
Garofalo then asked about a home across the street from hers that houses a family with young children that had an excavating business and parked a tractor behind their home.
"You said you believed it was a nonconforming use. Have you checked that?" he asked. "Did you call anyone at Town Hall to find if it was a conforming or permitted use?"
"No, but my entire life there have been trucks back there," Kimball said. "I don't like being lectured by you, Mr. Garofalo."
"You talked about overflow parking at the PAL... Did you observe that there were no parking signs on Baldwin Road?" asked the attorney, whose own office is on Baldwin Road.
"Near Burger King. Down by your office building," she replied. I'm not looking to park on Baldwin Road itself. I am concerned about traffic in that area in general, sir, and parking is one of those impacts."
"Have you ever called the police to get the cars off the road?"
"I'm not a person who calls the police," she said.
"You said you were concerned about overflow parking on Baldwin Road."
Kimball conceded that he was correct.
"Yet you haven't called the police... One of your concerns is the size. You say it's too big," Garofalo stated.
"I'm no expert, but I don't think you can have a building that size and have enough space for parking to support it," she said.
The lawyer then asked whether she believed an office park would have the same impact as the temple. Kimball said no, because unlike a business, the temple would offer Sunday night services.
"The temple will be having activities over the weekend and Sunday nights and festivals," she said. Eight hundred people coming day and night doesn't happen in office parks."
Garofalo then sought to impeach her credibility based on the fact that she could not produce photographs to prove her claims regarding overflow parking problems caused by the recreation facility. Kimball took offense, insisting that she was offering eyewitness testimony.
"Other than your testimony we have no evidence of any overflow parking on Sunday evenings from the PAL. Is that correct?
"That's correct, but, unless you dont believe what I am saying...
Garofalo brought his questioning to an abrupt end.
Board member Pathak directed a question of his own to Kimball: "What's your primary objection?"
"I believe the property is too small," she said. "The area is already too busy with traffic."
Next up was licensed professional planner and architectural historian Wayne McCabe.
McCabe testified about the history of the area and how it has become a "cohesive residential neighborhood."
Opposition lawyer Murphy asked McCabe about the potential impact the proposed temple could have for the Kimball-Baldwin house and the rest of the neighborhood.
"It would have a very visible and, in my professional opinion, negative impact on the Kimball house," the planner said.
McCabe said the temple would require more variances than its organizers say: one for the 3-story height, one for having parking in front of the building and a third for being unable—in his estimation—to balance statutory building requirements with environmental concerns.
He added that the proposed plan would lead to the destruction of mature trees in the area and violated the township's master plan.
"My position is simple," he said. "There is a significant alteration to the use pattern in this neighborhood.
"It would be helpful if the board would make the project more compatible with the [area]."

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