20 Aug 2014
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Patch Instagram photo by nrdavispeace
Patch Instagram photo by nrdavispeace
Patch Instagram photo by nrdavispeace
Patch Instagram photo by nrdavispeace

Temple Plan Controversy Erupts Again Before Zoning Board

Planning Board planner's letter among topics that created contention as deliberation on the long-discussed application continued.

Temple Plan Controversy Erupts Again Before Zoning Board Temple Plan Controversy Erupts Again Before Zoning Board

The Parsippany-Troy Hills Zoning Board of Adjustment spent another long Wednesday night at Town Hall hearing testimony on a controversial proposal to build a temple at Baldwin and Troy Roads.

The four-year-old matter was not settled and will come before the zoning board again Dec. 19.

As has been usual as this application's consideration has progressed, conflict was the order of the day during Wednesday's testimony.

The moment President Robert Iracane brought the International Society of Krishna Consciousness' application to the floor, the developer's attorney, Robert Garofalo, took aim at a letter planner Edward Snieckus submitted to the ZBA in September.

Garofalo insisted that Snieckus, who works for Burgis Associates and serves as professional planner for the Parsippany Planning Board, had no standing before the Board of Adjustment.

The letter "poisons this hearing," said Garofalo, visibly upset that ZBA members were permitted to read the missive.

According to the lawyer, it would be inappropriate for the board to consider Snieckus' report unless he appeared in person and could be cross-examined.

President Iracane agreed. He said the zoning board didn't solicit the letter and that he did not know who ordered it.

Patch asked Mayor James Barberio if he or his administration gave Snieckus the task of weighing in on the temple matter. No answer has been forthcoming, and a subsequent Open Public Records Act request for information has yet to be fulfilled.

The evening's testimony got underway with Garafalo's cross-examination of Wayne McCabe, a professional planner and architectural historian speaking on behalf of those opposed to the temple project.

At the board's Oct. 3 meeting, McCabe testified that while ISKCON was asking for one use variance, the project in his opinion required four variances to cover the proposed building's uses, size, height and parking needs.

The proposed religious facility would cover 28,000 square feet (about half of what was proposed in ISKCON's initial plan) and stand a basement level plus two stories high. It would include a sanctuary, multipurpose room, sleep spaces and other rooms.

McCabe said the temple would would have a negative impact on the character of the area, which he described as a "residential enclave" that includes historic homes, offices and the Police Athletic League building.

Garafalo sought to impeach McCabe's contention that the temple building would violate zoning laws.

"What is the zoning of this area?" the lawyer asked. "It's not zoned residential, is it?"

McCabe admitted that it is not.

"What are permitted uses in an O-1 zone?" Garafalo continued.

McCabe listed numerous types of businesses including clerical, data processing and medical and dental offices.

"These are non-residential uses," said the attorney. "[It's] not a residential enclave, is it?"

McCabe did not concede the point.

Board members then questioned McCabe.

Amil Shah focused on opponents' contention that the proposed temple's multiple uses were not appropriate for the Baldwin-Troy area.

"Other churches have multi-purpose rooms," he said, asking why there would be a problem with the proposed house of worship having multiple purposes.

Brian Kelley inquired about why McCabe thought a height variance was needed.

"It has three stories, not two," the opposition witness said, contending that the planned basement would count as a story. "That puts them over the limit. The height is more than 35 feet."

The opposition's next witness was professional traffic engineer Hal Simoff of Madison. 

In his testimony, Simoff talked about ISKCON's Montville temple.

"It has 10,604 square feet on a 2.7-acre site [as compared to the proposed Parsippany temple, which would have] 30,982 square feet on a little more than 3 1/2 acres," he argued. "That 3.8 times the square footage on only about 1 1/2 times the acreage.

"By increasing the building by four times, you're planning for future expansion."

Garafalo responded with visible anger.

"This is all extraneous; this is outrageous testimony," he asserted.

Board member Saurin Pathak interjected calmly with a question for Simoff: "What are you suggesting?"

"When demand increases, some of these rooms are going to become sanctuaries," he replied. "There are multi-purpose rooms, mezzanines ... rooms that can easily be converted."

Pathak took issue with the comparison between the Montville site and the proposed Parsippany construction.

"You're not comparing apples to apples," he said. "The old building doesn't have a multi-purpose room."

At 10:30 p.m., President Iracane brought the meeting to a close with the matter set to rear its contentious head again in two months.

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