Worship Building Proposed for Laurel Avenue, West Orange; Zoning Board Meeting to Take Place at 8pm on Thursday, Jan. 15; 66 Main Street, West Orange
Nov. 19 Update:
The Zoning Board has amended their Nov. 20 meeting agenda to table the Worship Space Proposal until the Thursday, Jan. 15 meeting.
ROSELAND / WEST ORANGE, NJ - West Orange's Zoning Board has been presented with an application for a worship space to be constructed at 23-27 Laurel Avenue, West Orange. Design plans call for a combined two-acre lot which will house a worship space, garage with apartment and a caretaker's building with a prayer space. Additionally, there will be a parking lot for 51 cars.
The initial plan was discussed for the first time at the Sept. 18 meeting of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and will next be debated at the Thursday, Nov. 20 meeting, due to begin at 8pm. The meetings take place at 66 Main Street, West Orange in the township's council chambers.
The property owner is Sai Hira Ram Trust, an educational tax-exempt organization which in 2007 was established at Driftway Street in Roseland. A detailed list of their information is found online here. The Laurel Avenue property was purchased by the group in 2005 and 2006.
According to the September meeting minutes, the two existing properties at number 23 and number 27 Laurel Avenue sit on over two acres of land and will be converted into one large property. The variance would need to be approved for a place of worship to exist on a residential block.
At this time, according to J. Michael Petry who testified as a civil engineer, a home on one of the lots is already being used as a worship space, by the East Orange House of God, without an prior approval (Lot 16). Petry said that a structure on the second lot has been abandoned and includes a garage with an apartment above it. Petry also noted that no approvals were in place for that dwelling (Lot 15).
Proposed Worship Space (Lot 15)
According to Robert Williams, Esq., who represents the property owner, the building would be a 6,000 square foot Hindu Temple. He said that the abandoned building would be removed and the temple would be built on that space, but the garage with the apartment would remain for visitors.
Williams stated that at this time the congregation is made up of 29 members but in the future they hope to have 75 to 100 members. He explained that this congregation only meets for prayers on Thursdays at 11am, followed by a one-hour lunch. They have two other celebrations a year, one on Thanksgiving and one on Indian New Years Day, which this year falls on Oct. 23.
A trustee for the congregation, Anita Thani, said the group follows the teachings of Sai Baba of Shirdi. She stated that, although the congregation has food drives twice a year, the group does not have any fundraisers or any other gatherings.
West Essex Now believes perhaps the annual Festival of Lights, widely celebrated and known commonly in New Jersey as Diwali, would have been the holiday that was being referred to as Indian New Year.
Petry stated that there would not be any unusual lighting needs for the parking lot because their members only meet during the day.
Proposed Residential Building
Petry expressed that a caretaker's residence and prayer room would be created inside of the existing residence. The prayer room would be open from 8am to 12pm and 4pm to 8pm for prayer and meditation by small prayer groups. A trustee for the congregation, Anita Thani, stated that the building has been used in this way already since 2008.
The temple space will require 51 parking spaces, according to Petry.
The detailed minutes for the Sept. 18 West Orange Zoning Board meeting are found online here.