‘Shirdi In America’ Temple Hearing Set For Zoning Board

An artist’s rendering of the proposed “Shirdi in America” temple planned for a 25-acre tract on South Middlebush Road.

A hearing on an application to build a nearly 29,000-square-foot Hindu temple on South Middlebush Road is set to be heard by the Zoning Board of Adjustment on March 5.

The project, called “Shirdi in America,” is targeted for a 25-acre parcel near Jacques Lane. According to the Sai Daytta web site, the project is meant to recreate a temple found in Shirdi, India.

According to an article about the project in the July 5, 2017 issue of Telangana Today, plans are for the temple – which will be built in phases – to include a meeting hall, gardens, a hospital and education center. The site will also accommodate a shelter to adopt cows, according to a February 28, 2015 article in the online journal greatandhra.com.

There is no mention of those projects in the application to be heard on March 5.

The site was previously used for leaf collection and recycling, before being shut down more than 20 years ago.

The site was also approved for three homes in 2011, but they were never built.

The developer, Sai Datta Mandir of South Plainfield, has owned the property since 2016, according to property records.

Plans call for the rectangular-shaped temple to be placed about 450 feet away from South Middlebush Road, with access via a 25-foot-wide driveway.

The temple will consist of a 28,400-square-foot temple including a sitting area for prayers, a warming kitchen, a dining area and a gift shop.

There will be 203 parking spaces provided, most of which will be located to the property’s rear, according to plans submitted to the township.

The site will be serviced by an on-site well and septic system, according to the plans.

The target site is located within the Six Mile Run state and national historic district, according to a January 29, 2020 report from Mark Healey, the township’s principal planner.

In his report, Healey questioned the developer’s calculation of required parking spots, and, noting that the “prayer area” is a small section of the overall temple, said that the developer would have to explain what the rest of it will be used for.

According to a traffic study conducted by Dolan and Dean of Somerville, the developer’s traffic engineer, the developer expects there to be fewer than 10 people in the temple weekdays between the 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. rush hours, except on the Thursday evening rush. During the Thursday evening rush hour, up to 30 people can be expected in the temple, according to the report.

It’s the later Thursday services that are expected to draw the biggest crowds during the week, according to the traffic report. From 7-8 p.m. on Thursdays, up to 587 people – traveling in an estimated 196 cars – could attend services there.

Those cars would then exit the temple grounds onto South Middlebush Road between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., according to the report.

Still, the firm’s report says, “ample capacity is available on South Middlebush Road to process peak Thursday night volumes. Any delay exiting the site will be stored in the 580-foot-long driveway” without impacting other movement in the temple’s parking lot.

A report by Crest Engineering Services, the developer’s engineer, said that the state Department of Environmental Protection has identified five rare or endangered bird species on that site: the American Kestrel, the Grasshopper Sparrow, the Great Blue Heron, the Northern Harrier and the Upland Sandpiper.

The DEP has identified four more rare or endangered species within the site’s vicinity, according to the report: the Bald Eagle, the Bobolink, the Vesper Sparrow and the Wood Thrush.

An Environmental Impact Statement for the project said that some species’ habitat could be destroyed through the construction, but said the species would simply move to another, undisturbed, part of the parcel.

The Somerset County Health Department denied the project’s septic plan “as insufficient information was supplied to the health department,” according to the department’s report.

The Crest Engineering report said that construction is expected to start in the Spring of 2021 and could take up to two years.

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