Temple Opponents’ Expert Roughed Up At Zoning Board Meeting

Louis Luglio, a traffic expert hired by opponents of the proposed 21,000-square-foot temple on South Middlebush Road, came under fire at the July 1 Zoning Board meeting.

Things did not go well at the July 1 Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting for the opponents of a 21,000-square-foot temple proposed for South Middlebush Road.

Testimony given by the opponents’ traffic expert did more to anger Board chairman Bob Thomas than persuade him to vote against the application, resulting in Thomas calling the testimony a “borderline waste of time.”

The July hearing was the eighth held for the controversial application, submitted by Dada Bhagwan Vignan Institute, one of two such applications targeted for an area of South Middlebush Road near Snyder’s Farm.

What earned the ire of Thomas was that the traffic expert, Louis Luglio, sought to discredit assertions by the temple’s traffic expert without referring to the expert’s actual testimony.

Rather, Luglio based his assertions – that traffic generated by the proposed temple would have a detrimental effect on South Middlebush Road traffic flow – on his presumption that the temple would hold its capacity of more than 450 people and data on house of worship traffic flow compiled by a national organization.

Temple representatives have said that no more than about 225 people would be in the temple at one time, and that would only be a few times a year.

Luglio’s testimony was, not surprisingly, attacked by the temple’s attorney, Peter Lanfrit.

Lanfrit pointed out that the capacity upon which Luglio was basing his traffic analysis was calculated for the purpose of determining how many parking spaces would be needed and did not reflect the number of people temple representatives testified would attend services and cultural events.

“I’m basing it on 21,000 square feet and 450 people that could be in the building,” Luglio said.

“Is there adequate parking for 250 people?” Lanfrit asked.

“Yes, maybe,” Luglio said.

“One hundred fifty-six parking spaces for 225 people may be satisfactory?” Lanfrit asked.

“Yes, maybe,” Luglio repeated.

“Do you think we should provide more parking spaces?” Lanfrit asked.

“No,” Luglio replied.

Lanfrit also pointed out inaccuracies in Luglio’s report, such as when he wrote that the driveway into the proposed temple was a “one-lane” driveway. Luglio said he meant to say it was one lane in each direction.

It wasn’t just Lanfrit who went after Luglio’s testimony. Board president Thomas could not hide his anger.

Thomas said there was no mention made of traffic generated by Snyder’s Farm, and the ability of motorists to make turns into and out of that driveway.

Luglio took issue with the temple’s traffic engineer’s assertion that there would be at most 50 cars entering the temple property in one hour. He said it was more like 100 to 150 cars, based on the proposed building’s capacity.

Luglio also testified that he relied on studies and data produced by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) in developing his analysis. As such, he incorporated traffic studies for other types of religious buildings, such as churches, mosques and temples.

That, Luglio said, was the conservative way to estimate what the proposed temple’s traffic impact might be.

That did not sit well with Thomas.

“It seems to me that you have gone so far overboard being conservative in your projections, that you disregarded the testimony given by the applicant,” he said, visibly agitated.

Thomas also took issue with Luglio’s assertion that the proposed temple is designed to hold 450 people.

“Why are we basing our projections on something that’s not going to happen?” he asked. “We have to give our faith in some respects, to the truthfulness and the accuracy of the applicant.”

“This use is primarily a weekend use, and its use is not coinciding with the peak hours of the traffic that’s on South Middlebush Road virtually any time of the day,” he said. “I would appreciate, needing two weeks for this testimony, that it was a little more relevant to the testimony” given by the applicant.

Township Planner Mark Healy asked Luglio why he did not base his analysis on the testimony, choosing instead to base it on generic information from the ITE.

“ITE is based on hundreds if not thousands of studies of houses of worship,” he said. “A project of this size that could handle 450 people inside the building, I find it very difficult to believe that only 50 vehicles would actually access the site during the peak hour. If the applicant’s traffic engineer relied only on data that the applicant gave, I think that is insufficient.”

We were looking for information pertaining to this site,” Thomas said. “I can get your ITE manual and read the pages myself. I don’t need you here to speculate on what the traffic would be and make it fit the agenda that you’re trying to process.”

“I would think your traffic report would be first of all considering what the sworn testimony says, then maybe add your addendums from the ITE on what other sites might generate fine,” Thomas said. “I find this borderline waste of time.”

“If you and the Board believe that only 50 cars would come in during a peak hour, then that’s great,” Luglio responded. “Hopefully you are right and there won’t be any traffic issues on South Middlebush Road. But at 450 people, I think there’s going to be more than 50 vehicles coming in.”

“According to the sworn testimony, they don’t have 450 members,” Thomas said.

“Then why is the building 21,000 square feet?” Luglio asked.

“Did you listen to the testimony?” Thomas said.

The next hearing on the application is set for August 5, when the opponents are scheduled to present an environmentalist and planner.

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