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NJ Tabernacle Gets Approval For Church, But It Comes With Many Restrictions

Rev. Dr. Patience Oti

The Rev. Dr. Patience Oti, pastor of NJ Tabernacle Church, told the Zoning Board that church services would be limited to Sundays and Thursday.

The Zoning Board had Como Drive residents on its mind Jan. 9 when it approved a proposal to build a 3,935-square-foot church at the street’s intersection with Cedar Grove Lane.

The unanimous approval came with a laundry list of restrictions:

  • Church services can only be held on Sundays and Thursdays
  • The church parking lot cannot be used for outdoor festivals or carnivals
  • The church cannot rent out its facility
  • Any facade lighting must be off by 9 p.m.
  • The only sanctioned activities other than church services are weddings and funerals.

The church must also work with township planner Mark Healey on alternative tree plantings and other methods to buffer neighbors, including planting one row of trees close to Cedar Grove Lane homes on an 8-foot berm.

The congregation, which is now meeting in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Edison, had been waiting for its turn before the board for about a year. The application was to have been heard last summer, but was delayed several times as township officials and representatives of the church worked out the township’s objections to the plan.

By the time the Jan. 9 hearing began, the only variance that was needed was for parking; Vincent Dominach, the township’s senior zoning officer, calculated the church needed to provide 77 parking spaces. The church proposed 59.

The discrepancy comes from differing interpretations of seating within what will be the worship hall. The hall will have 108 fixed seats and room for 74 portable seats. Dominach included that portable space in his calculations while the church did not.

With its approval, the board granted a requested variance from the parking requirement and also waived a requirement that the church install sidewalks along its portion of Como Drive.

The church will instead make a donation to the township’s curb fund.

The church property currently has two homes on it; one fronting Cedar Grove Lane will be the parsonage, while an abandoned home on Como Drive – damaged several years go by a fire – will be razed to make way for the worship hall.

Construction will mean the removal or moving of a number of trees on the property. The church will have to replace about 250 trees, or make an equal contribution to the township’s shade tree fund.

Once it’s completed, the church will continue its practice of holding two services a week, one from 10 a.m to 1 p.m. Sundays and a Bible study from 7-8 p.m. on Thursdays, said the church pastor, the Rev. Dr. Patience Oti.

She said the congregation is comprised of between 20 and 25 families, not all of whom attend every Sunday.

She said about 30 people show up for Sunday services, and fewer than that for the Thursday Bible study sessions.

There were no major revelations by the experts called by the church’s attorney, Peer Lanfrit of Somerset. All of them – the project’s engineer, architect, traffic engineer and planner – bolstered the argument that the church would be a beneficial and unobtrusive use in the area.

Como Drive residents were mainly concerned about the traffic from congregants as they entered and left the property. The Somerset County Planning Board required that a driveway on Cedar Grove Lane that leads to what will become the sanctuary be sealed off, and any entrances and exits be located on Como Drive.

The church’s traffic engineer, Elizabeth Dolan, told the board that the church would have minimal impact on traffic along Como Drive. Any backup would only last about 15 minutes, she said.

Any lights around the property or on the building will be minimal, and will be turned off at night, said the project’s architect, Jeffrey Kusmick of Kendall Park.

The few stanchion lights in the parking lot will only be lit on Thursday nights, during the Bible study, he said.

There were a number of neighborhood residents at the meeting, most of whom were there to hear the final plans and express their concerns about the project.

Como Drive resident Jean Gierlich summed up how her neighbors felt when she told the board that the street “is a very tight-knit community. This church coming in is new to us and a little disruptive to what we’re used to. But everything I’ve heard so far suggests it’s going to be a low-key operation.”

“But we live there and we love the peace and quiet, it’s that kind of a street,” she said. “If they are going to join us, we just ask that they be a good neighbor.”

In his final comments, Lanfrit told the board that the church “has taken great pains” to develop a plan that would be acceptable to township officials and the neighbors.

The church, he said, “will be a part of the fabric of this community and that neighborhood.”

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