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Zoning Board Hearings Begin For Proposed 29,000-Square-Foot Temple On South Middlebush Road

Former Township Councilman Upendra Chivukula, right, answers questions posed by temple attorney Peter Lanfrit at the May 5 Zoning Board meeting.

A proposed Hindu temple on a 25-acre South Middlebush Road parcel could draw between 80 to 250 people on weekdays and as many as 200 a day on weekends, the Zoning Board of Adjustment was told during the temple’s May 5 hearing.

That number could grow to as many as 350 people on each of the temple’s three main holidays, the Board was told.

Sai Datta Mandir wants to build an approximately 29,000-square-foot temple at 583 South Middlebush Road to replicate a temple in the western Indian city of Shirdi.

The one-story, rectangular building would be situated so that its shorter side would face South Middlebush Road, the Board was told.

An approximately 30-foot-tall dome, located on the 25-foot tall building’s roof, would be illuminated on important holidays.

Testifying on behalf of the developer was Upendra Chivukula, a former Township Councilman and state Assemblyman.

Chivukula, who said he is a congregant of the temple at its Edison location, told the Board that the Edison location would be maintained if the Franklin location is approved.

The temple would operate seven days a week, he said, between 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and 5-9:30 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekends.

He said the temple does not have set worship times, but, rather, has a “rolling audience” of congregants who come and go during the day.

“That’s the only time they congregate, then they leave,” he said.

On Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, there could be between 20 and 30 congregants at the temple during the morning hours and 40-50 during evening hours, Chivukula told the Board.

One Wednesdays, he said, between 20 and 30 congregants would visit the temple.

Thursdays could see between 40 and 50 congregants in the mornings and 150 to 200 in the evenings, he said.

“Thursday is the main day” for the temple’s deity, Sai Baba, he said.

On Saturdays and Sundays the temple could see between 100 and 120 congregants in the morning and 100-150 in the evenings, he said.

Chivukula said congregants do not linger in the temple.

“They come, they go through their circle of prayers, and then they go home,” he told the Board.

The temple observes three main holidays, he said: Ramnavimi, which this year was observed on April 10; Gurupurnima, which will be observed this year on July 13 and Vijayadashami, which will be observed this year on October 5. He said the observances are guided by the lunar calendar and change yearly.

Attendance at these festivals is expected to top at 350 people, he said.

The project is being opposed by the owners of Snyders’ Farm, which is located across the street from the targeted property.

Snyders’ attorney, Martina Bailiee, unsuccessfully argued that the lot chosen for the temple is a “flag lot,” which does not allow for houses of worship.

A flag lot is basically a piece of land that lies at the end of a long driveway and is often surrounded by other properties. The temple’s property is about 450 feet away from South Middlebush Road.

The protracted debate grew heated at times, with the township’s planning director, Mark Healy, bristling at some of Bailiee’s assertions.

In the end, Board attorney Francis Regan ruled that the lot was not a flag lot, and the hearing proceeded.

The Board also heard from the project’s architect, Kishor Joshi, who said that congregants would enter the temple from the parking lot side, away from South Middlebush Road.

He said the main portion of the temple could hold 445 people, and the entire temple could hold 567 people.

The hearing is scheduled to continue at the Board’s June 2 meeting.

The Board in October 2021 gave preliminary approval for a 21,000-square-foot temple on the other side of South Middlebush Road, abutting the Snyder Farm, The developer of that temple, the Dada Bhagwan Instuitute, will have to return for final site plan approval.

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