Zoning Board Hearing Continues For South Middlebush Road Temple

Owners of South Middlebush Road properties abutting the site of a proposed Hindu temple won some concessions from the developer, but that doesn’t mean they endorse the project, the Zoning Board of Adjustment was told on March 18.

Changes to the site plan for the proposed Dada Bhagwan Vignan Institute were presented at the fourth hearing on the application, which would place a roughly 21,000-square-foot temple on the 16-acre tract. The target land abuts Snyder’s Farm on one side and a single-family home on the other.

The owners of those properties are leading the opposition to the project, which has also been taken up by a grassroots residents’ group.

Concessions won by the property owners include moving the temple further away from the single-family home, erecting a fence around the temple property to prohibit people from wandering onto Snyder’s Farm, and, generally, creating buffers with berms and evergreen plantings to shield the temple from the sight of neighboring properties and cars driving along South Middlebush Road.

Most of the March 18 hearing was taken up by the applicant’s engineer, Mitchel Ardman, explaining the changes to the board, and taking questions about those changes from board members, attorneys representing objectors to the project, and the public.

The project needs several variances, including ones for setbacks and the number of parking spots provided.

Attorney Martina Baillie, representing Ray and John Snyder, asked Ardman why the temple couldn’t be moved to another part of the property to place it further away from the farm and the single-family house and obviate the need for some variances.

Moving the temple further away from the rear property line would bring it closer to the single-family home, Ardman said. He said the developer has agreed to keep a secondary parking lot at least 100 feet away from the home, and moving it would break that agreement.

“We’re really balancing the view shed from South Middlebush … this, we think, is a good site design, balancing all those aspects,” he said.

There’s also a vacant house on teh property, which the developer has said they want to retain. No use for that house has been proposed.

Baillie asked Ardman if any thought had been given to either demolishing that house or moving it to another location so the temple could be moved to a more central location.

“While moving buildings is possible, it’s easier said than done,” Ardman said. “We think this layout captures all the design elements of this property.”

Traffic on South Middlebush Road generated by the temple was on the minds of some who attended the meeting, but was not addressed due to time limitations.

A traffic report submitted by the developer asserts that the temple would not affect peak morning or evening traffic during the week because all events will be held on off-hours.

Between 150 and 175 people may visit the temple between 6-10 p.m. on Fridays, according to the traffic study, authored by Dolan and Dean of Somerville.

On three Saturdays a month there will be between 75 to 100 attendees between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m., the study said.

One Saturday a month there will be 125 to 140 attendees between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., according to the study.

And one Sunday a month there will be between 50 to 75 attendees between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., according to the study.

Those cars will probably not be arriving at one time, but would come and go during the course of those days, according to the study. Because of that, traffic generated by the temple would not denigrate traffic flow along South Middlebush Road, the study said.

One of the variances sought by the developer is for the number of parking spots provided. The site plan calls for 157 spaces, when 457 spaces are required by township ordinance to serve the nearly 7,000-square-foot worship area.

In his report to the Board, Mark Healey, the township’s principal planner, noted that the traffic estimates suggest that fewer than 100 parking spots would be needed, based on projected attendance.

“However, the site plan indicates an occupancy level of 458 people which would need 153 spaces (again following the intent of the ordinance to have 1 space for every three attendees),” Healey wrote. “This leads to two main questions: Which occupancy levels provided by the applicant are accurate?”

“If there is a reason for the discrepancy in the figures the applicant needs to explain,” Healey wrote. “If the largest anticipated gathering would be 250 people why is the worship area being designed to accommodate nearly twice that number (458)?”

The attendance picture painted in the traffic study is different than the one envisioned by members of the temple’s governing board during the July 4, 2015 groundbreaking held at the proposed temple’s site.

The event was attended by township officials and several hundred people from around the country and the world.

At the event, Shirish Patel, a member of the organization’s governing board, said that the temple will be “a very hustling and bustling center.”

Patel said that about 300 people will attend events there several times a week. He said the group will also hold morning and evening prayers, as well as “big events.”

The Dada Bhagwan Vignan Institute is based in India and has chapters throughout the United States. The group wants to build a “trimandir” temple on the site, which places on equal footing the gods revered by those who follow the three major religions in India: Jainism, Shaivism, and Vaishnavism.

The next Zoning Board hearing on the application is set for April 15.

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