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Chai Center Hearing Focuses on Engineering

There were questions on the center's mailing list before the evening turned to engineering issues. The hearing continues on Aug. 23.

There were questions on the Chai Center's mailing list before the Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing shifted to engineering issues on Monday night.

It was the third hearing on the application to build a synagogue at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Old Short Hills Road for the Chai Center for Living Judaism. A fourth hearing is scheduled for Aug. 23.

The proposal for a 16,350-square-foot structure containing a 144-seat synagogue, library, social room, and several multi-purpose rooms on 1.8 acres of residential property has been met with strong opposition from The Concerned Neighborhood Association of Millburn Township, also known as Save Millburn. The building would replace two single-family homes currently on the adjacent lots. One of the requested variances is for a conditional use, which requires three acres of land.

During the last hearing, the attorneys representing the neighbors asked for Rabbi Mendel Bogomilsky to submit a copy of the center's mailing list, which the board required be submitted even if it was redacted.

The mailing list was submitted into the record officially on Monday night and included 77 line items, which represented the families on the list. Bogomilsky was called forward to testify to certify the list and answer questions from the neighbors' attorneys.

But he said there is a larger list of 1,000 people, but many of those are people who he has never heard from and some were names he had picked from the phone book. Those people are sent a calendar each year to remind of the Jewish holidays, but there is no contact with them, he said.

Larry Kron, Chai Center attorney, objected to the line of questioning, stating it had nothing to do with zoning. The growth of the synagogue is limited by the seating and parking, he said.

Bogomilsky said the average weekday service has 10-15 people, the average Saturday service has 30-40 people and the high holidays draw about 150 people. If the 77 families had three people each, he said, it would be 210 people. "We never have those numbers," he said. There are many people who contribute to the Chai Center financially and never attend a service.

Then David Fantina, the engineer for the Chai Center project, testified about the project, including a review of how the project complies with the zoning ordinance. He also answered a number of yes-and-no questions from Richard Lamb, one of the attorneys for the neighbors.

Fantina said he anticipates a parking area in the buffer to be used about eight to 12 times per year, so he believes the area can still be a green area rather than paved. It could be paved at any time the applicant or board feels it necessary. But it would add to the green space on the property.

There were questions of the amount of parking planned for the property, which is for the 144 seats in the santuary. Lamb contended the social hall's seating should have been included in the parking plan. If there are 51 more seats in the social hall, he said, the applicant would be required to add 17 more parking spaces.

But the questioning of Fantina on parking was closed because a traffic engineer was due to testify. The two attorneys for the neighbors both requested a traffic impact study be submitted by the traffic engineer. But board Chairman Joseph Steinberg said it may not be necessary. The traffic engineer's testimony would help determine if a impact study would be needed and he would not hold up the testimony for such a report.

Also, the Aug. 23 hearing will be held at Town Hall. The first two hearings were held at Hartshorn Elementary School and the third at Millburn High School. Steinberg said the crowd never reached 65 people Monday night, and the venue is difficult for the board because of, among other reasons, the lighting. A fifth hearing also has been scheduled for Sept. 27, but the location has yet to be set.

MillerTime July 27, 2010 at 10:57 PM
Town zoning says he does not have enough land. He shouldnt be allowed to build a nonresidential structure there. The neighborhood has spent large sums of money to own homes in this exclusive area and values will plummet if non residential structures are allowed to be built. Short Hills is a very built up community and every religion cant have facilities built just because they is not one already...go west.

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