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Attorney Says Planning Board Had No Jurisdiction To Hear Church's Application

Because a church is a conditional use, not an existing use, attorney for applicant says only zoning board had jurisdiction to hear Gospel Fellowship Church's application.

Appearing before the zoning board, new counsel for Gospel Fellowship Church, Elliot Urdang, said that after reviewing all the relevant materials pertaining to the hearing before the planning board, he has determined that the planning board lacked jurisdiction to hear the Church's site plan application.

The church, currently located in Bergenfield, wants to move into the Riverview Racquetball Club facility on Henley Ave., but was in December. The board cited increased flooding,  and the number of congregants as reasons for denial. 

Urdang had represented Riverview Racquetball Club when they went before the Planning Board with their site plan application in 2007. 

"The Church is using essentially same site plan that Riverview got approval on, with slight changes," Urdang told the zoning board. "So, if it was approved by the planning board, why are we here?" 

In March, Urdang told Patch, "The church was applying under a prior application that had already been approved [by the planning board]."

"There was already a complying application," he added. 

Urdang informed the members of the zoning board that Riverview had received site plan approval from the planning board in 2007-- approval that is valid until 2014.

However, he said that the variances sought by Riverview in 2007 were C variances for existing use. The church is now seeking D variances because a house of worship is a conditional use, not a permitted or existing use, and only the zoning board has jurisdiction over D variances.  

"There’s no material change in the site plan from Riverview," Urdang said. "What has changed is that it is not a permitted use, but a conditional use."

"Did the planning board consider the conditional use?" zoning board attorney Scott Sproviero asked Urdang.  

"No," Urdang said. "Otherwise they would have known that they had no jurisdiciton." 

"The planning board never considered it because the applicant's attorney never raised the question," Sproviero said. 

Urdang said that a church is an "inherently beneficial use" and should be granted the variances it needs. Under land use law, an inherently beneficial use is a use that promotes the general welfare of the community and is considered to be needed by the community. Schools, hospitals, low-income housing and churches fall under this beneficial use category.

Board member Lou Denis recused himself from the hearing because he owns two businesses within 200 feet of the proposed church.

The hearing will continue at the next regular meeting of the zoning board on July 10 at 7:30 p.m. 

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