A Paramus, New Jersey, Hindu temple expansion plan continues to raise concerns

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A decision on whether to approve the proposed expansion of the Hindu temple and cultural center in Paramus will not be made until next year, while some residents and board members continue to question the size of the proposed facility.

During Thursday night’s Board of Adjustment hearing, TJ Ritchie, the project’s planning consultant, discussed the variances sought by the applicant, Shri Swaminarayan Gurukul, for the project.

The plan seeks 11 variances, including allowing greater building height and impermeable coverage than zoning allows, fewer parking spaces and less buffer space between the building and its neighbors. The plan includes 133 parking spaces.

If approved, the existing cultural center and two single-family homes on Spring Valley Road would be demolished and replaced with a two-story, approximately 18,000-square-foot building with a basement. A 300-year-old tree will be cut down if the project is approved.

The next hearing for the project, which will allow for public comment and an expected vote from the Board of Adjustment, will be held Jan. 25 at East Brook Middle School at 7:30 p.m.

Earlier in the year, the temple proposed a 19,503-square-foot facility, but the size was reduced after community feedback. Despite the change, some community members and board members still question the size of the proposed building.

The facility will include a basement with a dining hall, a special storage room for decoration, a freezer room, a kitchen, and another storage room. The basement will also have a gift shop, snack room, mother and baby room, girls’ activity room, bathrooms and showers.

more: A 300-year-old Paramos tree may have to be felled for redevelopment unless neighbors can save it

The first floor will contain an auditorium, meeting rooms, offices, boys’ activity rooms, bathrooms and showers. There will also be a living area for one of the two priests who will live in the building.

The second floor will contain a library, bathrooms, a display gallery, a luggage storeroom, seven guest rooms, two cloakrooms and a laundry room.

Questions about the bedroom

During Thursday’s testimony, Board of Adjustment planner Katherine Gregory asked whether it is “fair to say that reducing the size of the building would reduce the amount of parking required?”

When Ritchie answered yes, Gregory said the applicant had previously indicated that the square footage was necessary for the practice of religion, and asked if Ritchie felt that “a dorm room for summer camp is necessary for worship.”

Based on his discussions with the temple, that would be necessary, Ritchie said, because it is a religious community center.

Board Chairman Steve Sullivan asked if a dorm room for summer camps was currently located in the temple. Richie said he couldn’t answer. Lawyer Carmine Allambi, who represents the temple, said he would ask his client for the next meeting.

more: A Hindu temple in Paramos cuts expansion plans. That’s why some still have concerns

Board member Anthony Ricciotti said the project has consistently been referred to as a multi-use facility. He asked Ritchie if he considered aspects of the project to be “not just a house of worship, but also housing, a hotel or a potential catering facility.”

Ritchie said he doesn’t consider the building anything more than a house of worship, because based on his conversation with the temple, these activities happen in the building and are related to how they practice their religion.

“If you’re going to create rooms for dining and activities and things like that, does that now mean this is no longer a house of worship?” Richie asked. “I don’t think so. In my discussions with the applicant, these areas are not being used at the same time as the main room. It’s not as if they would suit more people, they are basically in addition to the main room.”

During public inquiry, resident Jason George said the temple’s current congregation was estimated at 130 to 140 people and that the applicant used that number to justify the parking. George wondered how the applicant could use the same figure to “justify the size of the building”.

Ritchie responded that the site’s design and usability were “very deliberate and deliberate” as “each room has a specific purpose and activity.”

“When you factor in the parking requirements, it’s almost like this requirement was excessive because of the way the congregation operates,” Ritchie said. “Basically, everyone has to fit into this main room, but everyone also has to have space to really break out and go to the side. We’re not filling the entire building at once.”

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