Chai Center Hearing Continues Before Millburn Board of Adjustment; Spotlight Focuses on Parking, Buffers, Building Height in New Plan
Tuesday, May 3, 2011 • 6:54am
MILLBURN, NJ - The Millburn Board of Adjustment hearing on the Chai Center proposal for a 144-seat synagogue, a library, a social room and multipurpose room on 1.8 acres of residential property at Old Short Hills Road and Jefferson Avenue continued Monday with testimony on a revised site plan and its effects chiefly on parking on the site.
Site Engineer David Fantina testified that, under the revised site plan, the building will have the same “footprint” as previously proposed but the applicant will “slide” the building so it is set back 57 feet off Jefferson Avenue with a 50 buffer to the north of the parking area and to the west after the parking area is moved more easterly on the site. Evergreen trees would be scattered around the perimeter between the parking area and the resident properties adjacent to the site, he added.
According to Laurence Appel, architect for the applicant, revised roof plans for the structure, while leaving the originally-planned architecture intact, will decrease the height from 34 feet, three inches to 31 feet, 11.5 inches—thus bringing it into conformity with the height requirements of the township zoning ordinance.
Resident Michael Becker, an objector to the project, wanted to know why the architect would propose a building that he knew to be above the height requirement, but believed to be part of a good plan, then go back and change that plan so that the height now conforms to the zoning law.
Appel replied gambrel roofs such as the one planned for the center can have different pitches, and after talking with the township engineer, he decided he could revise the roof to make it comply with the ordinance without substantially changing the structure of the center.
Kevin Coakley, attorney for the objectors, challenged the contention by Fantini, the engineer for the applicant, that the parking area designated for the site no longer required a variance.
It was Coakley’s contention that a variance was needed because the parking area exceeded the requirement for an accessory use of the site, but Fantini replied in his 25 years of appearing before zoning bodies in a number of communities parking had not been considered an accessory use.
Both Coakley and John Lamb, the other attorney for the objectors, cited state land use law that they said defined parking as an accessory use.
Fantini also said parking for about 13 cars would be available in a depressed curb area north of the officially-designated parking area. This overflow area, he added, would be used less than once a year and, therefore, would remain unimproved.
Lamb contended the overflow area should have been included in some manner when calculating the amount of impervious coverage to be taken up by the project.
“If overflow parking was being provided why didn’t we see it in the plan?” he added. “We never get a complete plan. It seems to be a shell game.”
Fantini also conceded if there were no designated areas for parking a bus or a truck bringing food to events in the center. Those vehicles, he said, would have to arrive before the parking area was full and could take up a number of spaces normally reserved for cars.
Although it would be possible to turn ambulances around in the parking lot, he noted, fire engines and larger emergency vehicles would have to go up on a curb to exit the parking lot.
He added, however, that it had been his experience that fire departments preferred fighting fires from streets outside complexes rather than from parking areas adjacent to buildings.
The Millburn fire marshal still is reviewing the revised plans and his report is due before the next hearing on the Chai Center.
The zoning body set its next hearing on the Chai Center proposal for June 27 at 7 pm in the Millburn Town Hall. Paul Gleitz, the planner for the applicants, and a few other minor witness are expected to testify at that time and then the objectors are expected to present their case.
Following all testimony, according to board chairman, Joseph Steinberg, the public will have a chance to ask questions and make statements.