நியூ ஜெர்ஸியில் ரீடிங்டன் நகரில் இந்துக்கோவில் கட்ட அனுமதி மறுக்கப்பட்டுள்ளது
Hindu temple plan is denied in Readington Township
Vote is unanimous; concerns raised over applicant’s credibility
By CLAIRE KNAPP, Contributing Writer
Published: Thursday, July 24, 2008 10:51 AM EDT
READINGTON TWP. – The township Board of Adjustment unanimously denied an application to build a Hindu Temple on Coddington Road at its meeting on last Thursday, July 17, citing the need to protect what little small business zoning remains and maintain a rural neighborhood atmosphere and not add more traffic to a narrow road served by a one-lane bridge.
The board also cited a lack of credibility in the applicant’s testimony.
Each of the seven board members publicly stated how they had arrived at their decision before casting a vote, and the primary theme was that the applicant had offered too much conflicting or otherwise unbelievable testimony during the two and a half year public hearing process.
Testimony stating the proposed CharDham Hindu Temple on Coddington Road would never have more than 150 devotees on the premises at any given time undermined the applicant’s credibility with the board.
The applicant, Yogendra Bhatt, had sought variances to place a sign only 44 feet from the road instead of the 50 feet required by local zoning regulations and to permit a 52.5 foot spire that would exceed the 50-foot height restriction. Public hearings on the application began in February 2006.
“There has been confusing testimony about 150 members,” said board member Diana Hendry in her summation.
Hendry said the applicant had testified the proposed 30,000 square foot Hindu temple would never have more than 150 people present one time, but at another time said there would be up to 150 devotees worshiping on the upper floor while children and those watching them would be downstairs.
“That means more than 150 people on the premises,” said Hendry.
Hendry said the credibility of the applicant on several issues was one of the factors in making her decision.
“That overall effect was noticeable to me when I sat and read all the testimony,” said Hendry. “In my view Mr. Bhatt was not credible and I reject his testimony on the number of members. A limitation of 150 people on the land is impossible.”
Hendry, the first board member to cast a vote, presented a long list of problems she felt would emerge if the temple were to be built on Coddington Road. As each board member stated their viewpoint, most of her comments were strongly supported.
Road Too Narrow
Other issues board members cited as being important factors in their decision were that Coddington Road is too narrow to safely handle much more traffic, and the importance of safeguarding the township’s Master Plan, establishing an ROM-2 (Research, Office and Manufacturing) zoning area for the development of small businesses.
“I’ve lived in Readington Township 22 years and have been on the Board of Adjustment seven,” said George Shepard. “This is one of the longest and most difficult applications I’ve ever heard. I am indeed concerned about Coddington Road. Even 150 cars one time each week would be detrimental.”
Shepard said the number 150 was the crux of the problem for him.
“We have this 29,000-plus square foot building and are being told there would never be more than 150 attendees,” said Shepard. “We don’t know if there will be more, but the size of the building would allow more. We’ve had conflicting testimony. It is difficult to say whose testimony was right. To me, it makes no common sense that any church would limit membership.”
Shepard said the simple solution would be to build a smaller building, but the applicant had rejected that idea and the board could not impose that as a requirement.
Board member Mary Grace Flynn said the board could not limit the number of devotees attending a religious building.
“All the applicant’s reports and witnesses based their testimony on 150,” said Flynn. “The applicant told them to use that number. The board never suggested a limit on devotees, the applicant did.”
“On one hand we have a house of worship, clearly a benefit,” said Flynn. “On the other hand there are detriments. A variance goes with the land. If Mr. Bhatt moved, the township would have a building that could accommodate 3,000 people. The applicant did not agree to reduce the size of the building.”
Flynn also said Bhatt’s suggestion of limiting the number of devotees may be discriminatory and flies in the face of federal right to worship laws.
Flynn said Bhatt had refused the suggestion of building slightly smaller towers and did not even seem to be familiar with the nature of Coddington Road and surrounding neighborhood, particularly the difficulties imposed by a one-lane bridge over nearby railroad tracks.
“In fact, his engineer even denied the bridge existed,” said Flynn.
Board member Michael Denning expanded on Hendry’s previous comments that Bhatt had testified the number 108 has religious significance. The proposed building would have been 108 feet by 108 feet. However Hendry had noted the 108 could be applied to 108 bricks or 108 of something else.
“Mr. Bhatt changed his testimony,” said Denning, noting Bhatt had given conflicting testimony about the number of people that might be in the building during times of worship.
Board member Richard Thompson said Bhatt had testified never having known of another Hindu temple that limited the number of devotees, which supported the testimony of Tunis Cox Road resident Savita Singh, a strong opponent of Bhatt’s application.
Asked For Demographics
“The Board (of Adjustment) had asked for demographics as to the number of Hindus in the area to consider the need for a new temple. The applicant declined,” said Thompson.
“There have been too many inconsistencies, and I’m left with real concerns about the real use of this property,” said Thompson.
Board member Eric Stettner said the township needs a small business area, and the current zoned use for the property should be protected.
Last to vote, Chairman Betty Ann Fort said a house of worship is an inherently beneficial use, but she said she believed the proposed CharDham Temple would rank low on the scale if it serves a limited number of devotees.
“Keeping the zone ROM-2 would generate jobs and ratables; a house of worship would not,” said Fort. “This piece of property and one on Ridge Road that is still being farmed are the last two undeveloped properties that suit the zoning. Houses of worship are permitted in residential zones as a conditional use and such zones would be better suited. Granting this variance would be detrimental to the Master Plan.
Fort took exception to closing statements made by Bhatt’s attorney the previous month concerning a limitation of the temple’s devotees, noting the board had never suggested any limitation.
“The board has heard six applications over recent years on houses of worship and never imposed limits on membership,” said Fort. “We would not do that and, in fact, questioned how that could be done.”
Something else Fort said she had found disturbing throughout the lengthy hearing process was that not a single one of Bhatt’s devotees had shown up to offer testimony in support of his application.
“This would be one of the largest temples in New Jersey, yet no temple members showed up to testify,” said Fort. “My opposition is in no way to be construed as opposition to a Hindu temple in Readington Township, but in opposition to this size building on this lot.”
After the decision had been rendered, the nearly 20 area residents who had steadfastly attended most meetings in opposition to Bhatt’s application clapped in appreciation of the board’s stand.
“Thank you for supporting the zoning regulations,” said Jim Casey, owner of the Minalex Corporation, a small business adjacent to the lot Bhatt proposed to build on.
Afterward, Casey said, “We need as many ratables as possible. Things are hard enough. Everyone (businesses) cannot afford large tracts. We need smaller parcels like this one.
Bhatt’s attorney, Lloyd Tubman, declined to comment on the board’s decision as she left the meeting. She also declined to say whether or not her client would file an appeal.