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Residents Concerned with Zoning Impact of Synagogue Project

The Chai Center for Living Judaism has proposed to construct a new building on Jefferson Avenue.

The Chai Center for Living Judaism has proposed to construct a synagogue on Jefferson Avenue, and some residents are concerned about the zoning precedent it could set.

The center has proposed constructing a 16,350-square-foot building at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Old Short Hills Road as part of the settlement in the suit between the township and Rabbi Mendel Bogomilsky. The building would replace two single-family homes.

The application, which would go before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, asks for a conditional use variance for an inherently beneficial use. Addiitonally, the board will review variance requests for building height and parking spaces in the buffer.

No date has been set for when the Board of Adjustment will review the application.

But the Concerned Neighborhood Association of Millburn Township is opposing the application because of the precedent it could set in other neighborhoods.

The group has scheduled a meeting to inform residents about the application for Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Bauer Center in Taylor Park.

Aryeh Liwschitz, a member of the group, said he and others got involved because no one knew what was happening with the proposal and that there was concern over plans for such a large structure in the neighborhood.

But the issues aren't about the Chai Center, but rather the precedent it would set for other large zoning projects in residential neighborhoods. Many different institutions could be considered "inherently beneficial" such as a hospital, day care or low income housing, he said.

Liwschitz, a neighbor on Park Circle, said people need to learn the facts about the project. There could be negative impacts on the neighborhood, especially trafic. "It's already hard to get in and out on Old Short Hills Road," he said.

Also, the project would need three acres for the conditional use variance, but the property is only 1.85 acres, he said. "Such a large structure on that lot would not benefit the neighborhood."

"We want to inform people about what is going on," he said. "Many didn't know it was happening... It's not us versus them."

MarkDS February 08, 2010 at 10:57 PM
First of all Federal law treats religious institutions differently so the argument about hospitals etc is spurious. While I was troubled by Rabbi Bogomilsky past behavior, when he tried to act with stealth rather than following proceedure, now that he is properly appearing before the board he should be given the benefit of the doubt
The Lion February 09, 2010 at 04:10 PM
Before you say the arguemnt is spurious read the following: http://www.wilentz.com/Files/ArticlesandPublicationsFileFiles/87/ArticlePublicationFile/BarcanReprint%20073007.pdf
The Lion February 09, 2010 at 05:39 PM
Why is no one mentioning the fact that in order for this to comply with local zoning codes a mimimum of 3 acres is required? Last I checked there were multiple 3+ acre lots for sale in town. Why are those options not being considered first? I think it is only fair that residents are informed when significant variances to the town's approved Zoning Ordinance are being applied for. And why can this discussion not take place without cries of religious bias? This has nothing to do with that. There are multiple 3+ acre lots for sale in town that could be pursued.
MarkDS February 09, 2010 at 05:53 PM
There is notification requirements for neighboring property owners. In order for the hearing to proceed those notification requirements, which involver certified letters, need to be met.
The Lion February 09, 2010 at 06:28 PM
This is a not simple variance for a small property. These involve significant variances that affect the traffic on Old Short Road and thus a lot more residents than just the neighboring ones. Still no response to any of the points above.
MarkDS February 09, 2010 at 06:47 PM
The fact that other properties are available is not really a relevant point. And many of them are much deeper onto side streets and not right off a major road. Variances are routinely granted from zoning regulations. Many residences in Millburn have been granted variances. People requesting these variances are not expected to look elsewhere for properties where they would not need the variances. I am not prejudging this request but am saying that I will be satisfied with whichever way the Zoning Board rules if done in accordance with fairness and due process. But RLUIPA does impose limits on the ability of towns to prevent religious institutions through zoning rules.
The Lion February 09, 2010 at 06:54 PM
The fact that other properties are available is wholly relevant. This would not be an issue and the significant changes to the Zoning Ordinance (which if passed could be poor precedent for residential areas I believe) would not be required. As for RLUIPA, 3 acres , I think, is not undue burden for a facility that is considered "inherently beneficial" . There are many religious institutions in and around Millburn/Short Hills.
MarkDS February 09, 2010 at 07:16 PM
And a synagogue in Summit just received a variance to expand with less than the required land and parking. I am not sure if B'nei Israel needed any variances for its expansion.
The Lion February 09, 2010 at 07:28 PM
The synagogue in Summit is the one I grew up in. Am not sure about the required land. But that congregation has been around for many many years and the traffic issue is not nearly as bad as it is on OSH and it is not nearly as close to private homes.
MarkDS February 09, 2010 at 07:37 PM
But it was contentious. It is a residential area and a group of neighbors did sue to stop the board's decision. The court upheld the decision and the neighbors chose not to pursue it further.
MillerTime February 13, 2010 at 03:18 AM
His congregation is mostly not from the area. They march up and down the streets like they live here. The town should not let this slide. Having someone come into one of the oldest residential areas in town and turn it into something else is not acceptable. The property values would drop, the traffic would be awful and the precedent set could be used to completely change the fabric of our town. Wake up Millburn/ Short Hills residents! Don't wait for this to happen on your street to take a stand. It may be to late!!

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