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Technical Issues Debated At Zoning Board Hearing For Proposed So. Middlebush Road Temple

Layout of the proposed Dada Bhagwan Vignan Institute.

The applicants for a temple on South Middlebush Road would have sailed through the Zoning Board of Adjustment approval process were it not for their desire to accommodate the concerns of their neighbors, the Board was told at its May 20 meeting.

Kevin Obrien, a planner hired by the applicant, Dada Bhagwan Vignan Institute, told the Board that the variances the application needs are as a result of the developer agreeing to move the proposed 21,000-square-foot temple further away from South Middlebush Road, in deference to requests by the property’s neighbors.

The May 20 hearing was the seventh one for the application, one of two temple applications for that portion of South Middlebush Road. Dada Bhagwan’s property lies adjacent to Snyders’ Farm.

Most of Obrien’s testimony was centered on a series of conditions the applicant must meet to convince the Board that approving the project would not be detrimental to the township’s zoning ordinance. Obrien said those conditions arose out of the applicant’s desire to work with the neighbors.

“We have tried to balance the needs of our neighbors, of the scenic corridor, with the needs of our applicant,” Obrien said. “We came in with an application that was fully conforming, but because of balancing the needs of everybody, we now need those conditions to be looked at by the board because we’re doing it ourselves in response to trying to make this a better application for the neighbors.”

The project, he said, has no “obvious” detrimental effects to the ordinance.

But Martina Bailiee, the attorney representing the Snyder brothers in their objections to the project, disagreed.

“If there were no obvious detrimental effects, I wouldn’t be here tonight,” she said. “I think there are some very serious detrimental effects.”

Much of Bailiee’s questioning of Obrien dealt with the concept of a house of worship being what is known under state land use law as an “inherently beneficial use,” and whether that designation automatically satisfies conditions that have to be met.

The applicant must prove that that any negative effects of the project won’t be detrimental to the township’s zoning plan, and that it meets all of teh positive criteria set for the zone.

“Inherently beneficial uses” assume teh positive criteria has been met, leaving teh applicant only to prove the negative criteria will not be impactful.

“I’m not questioning whether a house of worship is an inherently beneficial use, I’m questioning whether the positive criteria … is inherently met with an inherently beneficial use,” Bailiee said.

Obrien also testified that the temple would not be a traditional house of worship.

“They’re more of a learning center, a contemplation center, more than a fixed church … where people come in and contemplate, rather than attend a fixed service for a fixed amount of time,” he said.

The next hearing on the application is set for the Board’s June 17 meeting.

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