The Zoning Board unanimously approved the change of use variance for the Gospel Fellowship Church, with board member Lou Denis recusing himself because he owns two businesses within 200 feet of the proposed church.
At the opening of Tuesday's meeting, Elliot Urdang, attorney for Gospel Fellowship Church, submitted to the board an alternative site plan reducing the amount of parking spaces from 115 to 75. The reduction in spaces reduces the amount of impervious coverage from 60.7 percent to 53.8 percent, or from 54,991 sq. ft to 48,747 sq. ft.
Upon board member Peter Rebsch's request that the applicant further reduce impervious coverage, the applicant accepted borough engineer Margita Batistic's recommendation to reduce the impervious area by an additional 2800 sq. ft. by shifting the configuration of the parking area.
Roger DeNiscia, planner for the Gospel Fellowship Church, testified that the reduction in impervious coverage, "Lessens the incidence of flooding, substantially."
The church, currently located in Bergenfield, wants to move into the Riverview Racquetball Club facility on Henley Ave., but was denied by the Planning Board in December 2011. The board cited increased flooding, traffic and the number of congregants as reasons for denial.
Despite that fact that the church's site plan was "substantially the same" as the plan submitted by Riverview Racquetball Club and approved by Planning Board in 2008 for same site, the raquetball club was a permitted use for the site, whereas a church is a conditional use.
The variances originally sought by Riverview were C variances for existing use. The church was seeking D variances because a house of worship is considered a conditional use, not a permitted or existing use, and only the zoning board has jurisdiction over D variances.
Conditional use variances have a lesser standard of proof, and the fact that a church is considered an 'inherently beneficial use,' the standard of proof is further diluted.
According to Urdang, "The already diluted standard of a D-3 variance is further diluted because it (Gospel Fellowship Church) is an inherently beneficial use."
The reduction in the amount of parking spaces came about as a result of the applicant's traffic expert's testimony that the site could function with less spaces, specifically because visits to the church are scheduled visits and limited to church services, unlike visits to the racquetball club or other commercial establishments where traffic flow can be unpredictable.
However, the applicant agreed to utilize off-duty police, at their expense, to monitor traffic if Chief of Police Frank Papapietro recommends that traffic conditions require traffic control, such as during Sunday services.
The applicant also agreed to cap their church membership at 400 members. When membership exceeds 400, they have agreed to seek additional space.
Urdang assured the board that there will be no on-site day care facility by the church or a third party, no rentals--the entire facility is to be used for congregational purposes only, and food is limited to a light lunch following Sunday church service.
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