Ananda Mandir Temple Expansion Gets Zoning Board Approval

Ankush Rakhit, president of the Ananda mandir temple on Cedar Grove Lane, testifies at the Zoning Board’s Sept. 21 meeting.

It was a bumpy ride, but representatives of the Anana Mandir finally did get the OK to expand their Cedar Grove Lane temple on Sept. 21.

Members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment didn’t make it easy, questioning the temple’s representatives on several aspects of the application, and noting that there have been problems at the site in years’ past.

The temple’s representatives asked for permission to expand its Last Rites room and add a second floor to the property’s home, which would hold an additional eight bedrooms and four bathrooms. The residence now contains two apartments, one for the temple’s clergy and one for its caretaker.

The application also asked for approval to finish the basement in the house to use as a meeting room.

The application was also for permission to use the temple’s basement for fellowship after services. Peter Lanfrit, the temple’s attorney, said there is already a full kitchen there, the temple would like to be able to add tables and chairs.

Board member Robert Shepherd noted that the temple’s original approval called for those basement areas to be only used for storage.

“Why can’t they meet in the basement of the temple,” he asked.

“The temple is usually used for religious activities,” Ankush Rakhit, president of the temple’s Board of Trustees, told the board. “It was felt if there as a small place where trustees could meet, then we don’t have to go to the big dining hall or the community room. It would just be more convenient.”

Rahkit told the board that the temple wanted to add bedrooms to the residence because it would like to offer a place for visiting clergy and speakers, and to offer elderly congregants a place to stay when services lasted longer than usual, especially around high holy days.

There was also some discussion – and disagreement – over the number of people permitted in the temple’s community hall.

Rahkit told the board that the hall “could fit 500 or so, but we limit it to 400,” while Elizabeth Dolan, a traffic engineer hired by the temple, said that the hall has been certified to hold 818 people.

Township planning director Mark Healey told the board that the “testimony in 2009 was that the community hall has a seating capacity of 352 people. That’s what was presented.”

Lanfrit said there was no number placed on the hall’s capacity.

“Then maybe we should put a number on it,” board chairman Robert Thomas said.

Healey also contradicted Dolan’s estimate of the total number of parking spaces needed for the property. Dolan said that 465 spaces were needed, while Healey said the requirement is 656 spaces.

Thomas said that he was concerned about the prospect of 800 people being on the property at one time. Earlier in the evening, Rahkit testified that the temple’s main religious holiday, which runs five or six days, could see an accumulation of about 1,000 people.

“My concern is, it’s done and then we pick up the pieces afterword,” he said. “That’s what I don’t want to see happen in the future.”

Part of the temple’s application was to build an additional 117 parking spaces that were “banked” in the original approval. Lanfrit said the existing spaces would accommodate the temple’s regular needs, and that the temple is working with township officials on overflow parking plans.

“We are demonstrating that we will not have problems once we have parking and once we finish all these other things up,” Lanfrit said. “We’re looking to operate the facility so we don’t have township problems, so we don’t have noise problems, so we don’t have neighbor problems. With these changes we are proposing, we probably won’t have any issues going forward.”

“Once its going and it works fine, then it works fine,” Thomas said. “But if it doesn’t go fine, there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s a little apprehension, to be honest.”

Shepherd said he shared Thomas’ apprehension.

“This is a very unusual application, and it’s the unusualness which raises my anxiety about doing this,” he said. “We think this space is just about built out and it’s a little bit anxiety provoking to be adding so much collateral uses and space to an area that’s already been created and already created a space that can hold 818 people.”

“We’re trying to make the place functional,” a visibly frustrated Lanfrit said. “We are restricted as to the number of activities that can take place at the same time. We’re not adding any more people, we’re not adding any more intensity, it’s just trying to make the place more functional.”

“I don’t recall approving a building that can accommodate 800 people, but it’s here,” Thomas said. “The fact is, that site can’t handle that. But now we have to make it work.”

At the end of the hearing, Shepherd said that if no one had any other motion, he would propose an approval motion allowing four bedrooms on the second floor of the residence, and using the remainder of the second-floor space for meetings, while the basement remains used for storage, and also allow for the Last Rites room expansion, the additional parking  and seats and tables in the temple’s basement.

Board member Cheryl Bergalio then moved to approve the application as submitted, which was seconded by board member Bruce McCracken.

Shepherd said he was not comfortable with the additional bedrooms being used by anyone but clergy, after which Bergalio amended her motion to include that restriction.

“Clergy can be broadly defined,” she said.

In the end, the board voted unanimously to approve the application.


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