MILLBURN, NJ – A trustee of an organization opposed to the building of a synagogue at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Old Short Hills Road went on record last night with the group’s objections.
Robert Sanna of the Concerned Neighborhood Association of Millburn Township testified before the Zoning Board of Adjustment during a hearing on the proposed new building for the Chai Center of Millburn-Short Hills. The hearings have been going on for approximately a year and a half, as synagogue leaders seek zoning variances that would allow the construction.
“First and foremost, this is an extraordinary amount of use,” Sanna said. “The size of the building… introduces a pretty intensive level of traffic and people coming to it from Jefferson Avenue…. Our primary concern is traffic. We are concerned visually with our neighborhood and the impact that this would bring to our otherwise quiet street. And lastly, just noise and other general activity that would go on.”
Sanna also said his organization has been in existence since 2005 and has about 150 supporters, who are listed on the Web site. Those supporters, who come from various areas of the township, need not have contributed money to be listed, he said.
He identified the organization’s two other trustees as Rich Keating and James Welch.
Several members of the audience sought to question Sanna about his organization’s objections. Resident Ed Mazur pointed out that variances have been granted to Wyoming Presbyterian Church, which does not meet zoning standards for lot size or amount of parking spaces.
Under the township’s zoning regulations, a house of worship, even in a residential area, must sit on three acres of property. The proposed synagogue, to be built on two parcels of land at 1 and 7 Jefferson Avenue, would sit on 1.8 acres, thus necessitating a variance.
At last night’s session, the board also heard from an architect called by an attorney for the objectors. Michael Soriano provided a report to the board regarding the number of seats and people the proposed structure could accommodate.
He estimated that the sanctuary could hold 209 users, using fixed and portable seats. The social hall would have 143 seats if tables and chairs were used, and 306 seats if just chairs were used. The maximum capacity of the hall would be 428 people if no tables or chairs were used, Soriano said.
Four proposed meeting rooms would accommodate 135 people with tables and chairs and 290 people with chairs only. A proposed playroom in the basement could hold 73 children with play space, or if used for other purposes, 135 people with tables and chairs or 289 people with chairs only, according to the architect.
The hearing opened with chairman Joseph Steinberg reading a letter written to the board by its planner, Paul Phillips of Phillips Preiss Grygiel. In that report, Phillips gave his opinion of what variances would be required of the applicant.
Steinberg said two of the variances Phillips said would be needed “come as no surprise”: one for the proposed use on the undersized lot and another for the front yard setback from the street. Other variances Phillips said would be needed are for a shortage of parking spaces, the amount of parking relative to the size of the lot and the proximity of the parking to the street.
Phillips was on hand to answer questions.
Larry Kron of Nussbuam, Stein, Goldstein, Bronstein & Kron, attorney for the Chai Center, sought to discredit Phillips. He introduced exhibits and Planning Board minutes for previous applications made by B’nai Jeshurun and B’nai Israel.
He asked Phillips if he had reviewed those applications.
“I wasn’t asked to interpret those decisions,” Phillips replied.
The board’s next hearing on the Chai Center’s application will be Monday, Nov. 21, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.