Potential Traffic Problems Cause Concern for Proposed Church
Traffic flow at intersection of Henley Avenue and River Road to be re-examined for potential congregation to take over vacant racquetball club facility
Traffic concerns were raised at Tuesday night’s planning board meeting regarding an application by the Gospel Fellowship Church to use the former Riverview Racquetball Club as a church.
Planning board members did not appear to agree with the hired traffic expert’s analysis of the intersection at the proposed site, located at Henley Avenue and River Road.
Bahman Izadmehr, a transportation civil engineer working with Gospel Fellowship on the project, explained to the board that he conducted a traffic count this past Sunday, Sept. 25 from 11 a.m. until about 2 p.m. He chose this time based on Gospel Fellowship’s proposed schedule for Sunday services, in which the busiest service would dismiss around 12:30 p.m.
Izadmehr said that the light at the intersection of Henley Avenue and River Road should provide the maximum permitted time for cars to turn off of Henley, and he does not foresee any change to be implemented to that signal time.
“There will be less of an impact with the conversion to a church than restoring the prior use [to the racquetball club],” said Izadmehr. “Therefore, it is my conclusion using this method that there will be absolutely no impact on traffic.”
Despite Izadmehr’s suggestion, both local business owners and members of the board expressed their concerns about the potential congestion that could arise after Sunday services, with an already vibrant traffic pattern on Sunday afternoons.
Chairman Angelo DeCarlo explained that there are several businesses near the proposed site that are open and operating on Sunday, including Garden Café, Wine and Roses and Jersey Boys.
Vice Chairwoman Hedy Grant questioned the traffic engineer’s method for analyzing the location’s traffic flow.
“At 10:30, people are going for breakfast at the restaurants. Should not that have been observed?” said Grant. "I’m talking about the amount of traffic at the peak hours that you selected, as opposed to what time would have been more appropriate to give us an accurate picture of the situation. Frankly, one day for two hours, to me, is not sufficient.”
Local business owners spoke on behalf of the intersection, which many of them have occupied for over 20 years.
Lou Denis, owner of both Wine and Roses and Garden Café, has been in business at his current location for nearly 25 years.
“[Henley Ave. and River Rd.] is one of the third busiest intersections in Bergen County. Traffic does not always flow from New Milford residents through this town. River Road is a thoroughfare, not from just New Milford and Bergenfield, but from Route 4 all the way down to Englewood, all the way up to Mahwah,” said Denis.
He said that based on his consistent observations of the intersection as a business owner, Sunday traffic flow on River Road starts around 1 p.m. when St. Joseph’s Church and Ascension Church conclude masses.
“So when you say there’s no traffic on River Road, I can tell you, I’ve been there for 25 years, and there’s major traffic,” he said.
The board ultimately requested that the traffic expert continue his observation of the intersection in order to devise a more accurate analysis of traffic patterns at the intersection of the proposed site.
Jonathan Kim, Deacon of Gospel Fellowship church, spoke on behalf of his congregation regarding their specific plans for the potential new site. He made clear to the board that the main reason for their move is not necessarily to recruit and make room for more members, but to accommodate the existing members with more space.
“We never had any complaints from the residents, and we never had any problems with the police, or the fire department, or the Board of Health. We’ve had no warnings, no mentions,” said Kim.
The Planning Board will meet for their next public session on Tuesday, Oct. 18, followed by a work session Tuesday, Oct. 25.