The Old Bridge Planning Board held a hearing on the application for a Hare Krishna temple on Route 34 at their meeting Tuesday night.
The Proposed Plan
The temple is proposed on 6.3 acres of land on Route 34 between Highview Terrace and Sheila Court in Old Bridge Township in the R30 Zone. Places of worship are permitted within residential zones in Old Bridge.
According to Jonathan Heilbrunn, the applicant's attorney, the proposed plan includes two buildings, a temple and a single family home. The proposed temple is a 23,312 square foot, one-story building with a basement that would accomodate 420 congregants. The ground level of the building would be about 11,656 square feet and would serve as a worship area. The basement level, which is also 11,656 square feet, would include a kitchen, dining area and several multipurpose rooms. The single family home would be built for the temple's priest and family.
146 parking spots are included in the plans. A formula used by the township would require only 140.
The Application's History
The application for the temple was first submitted in 2009 by the Central New Jersey chapter of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), a religious organization with roots in Hindu scripture.
According to an article in The Star Ledger from February 2009, the original plans submitted in 2009 detailed a 38,000 square foot temple with a dome. The temple was proposed to be 30 feet in height and would provide parking for 150 cars. The article said ISKON of Central New Jersey purchased the property in 2006. Currently, the congregation meets in rented space at the Marathis Viswa Community Center.
ISKON of Central New Jersey's application is currently in front of the planning board. Attorney Bruce Freeman, who represents United Old Bridge Residents, a group of people who are opposed to the temple's proposed location, focused on several zoning issues and motioned to have the application heard by the Zoning Board of Adjustments instead of the Planning Board. At the April 10 meeting, however, this motion was denied by the board's attorney Michael Cresitello.
"From a legal stand point there is no issue with jurisdiction and it is appropriate for the board to continue to hear this application," Cresitello said at the beginning of the meeting.
What is ISKON?
At the hearing, the applicant's attorney, Jonathan Heilbrunn, called Larry Pugliese to speak as an expert witness on his experience with ISKON as a religion and with ISKON of Central New Jersey. Pugliese started an ISKON center in Towoca, New Jersey in 1981. (, the Towoca center has been working to build a temple in Parsipanny in a business zone for about three years, but so far has not been able to gain approval from the township.)
Pugliese, who has been affiliated with ISKON for about 40 years, explained that an Indian monk traveled to America and founded Hare Krishna in 1965. The religious tradition is based on monotheistic Hindu scriptures that date back 1,000s of years, Pugliese said. He explained that the focus of the religion is, "a system of developing one's love of god through the medium of glorifying god."
ISKON followers are expected to abstain from the use of drugs and alcohol, abstain from pre-marital sex, abstain from gambling and follow a vegan diet.
The ISKON tradition requires the temple to hold six services a day, Monday through Friday. The first service is held at 4:30 a.m. and the final service is held at 8:30 p.m. A service is also held on Sunday, starting at 5 p.m. which is followed by a dinner. A typical worship service may include scripture readings, chanting, playing of instruments and singing. According to Pugliese, services during the week are rarely attended by congregates because of work and family commitments. Members of the temple also have personal prayer rooms in their homes, Pugliese said. The Sunday service draws almost the entire congregation, which Pugliese estimated at being between 150 and 200 people.
There are four major festivals a year, based on a lunar calendar, that typically draw between 800 and 1,000 people. Currently, the ISKON Center of New Jersey meets with other Hare Krishna temples to celebrate the festivals at a site with enough room for that many people, said Pugliese.
Traffic and Parking Concerns
Several Old Bridge residents were present at the meeting and expressed concerns with potential overflow parking, traffic and the proposed multipurpose rooms.
"It's a beautiful religion. This is not about religion," said Charles Internicola, an Old Bridge resident who is worried about the increase in traffic. "If the community wants to build a temple, it's welcomed, but if they're going to occassionally have festivals with 1,000 people, then the impact on infrastructure needs to be assessed. It's about balance."
Louis Graupner, a resident of Canyon Woods, a section of townhouses and condominiums that are accessed through Highview Terrace, was concerned about overflow parking causing congestion in her neighborhood.
"Can there be a stipulation for them not parking in our area? That is our major concern at Canyon Woods. Everyone should have their own place to worship but infringing on other people's space isn't fair," Graupner said.
However, Chairman Ernest Schmitz explained that the Planning Board cannot put a restriction of that kind on the congregants. Each community would have to switch to permit parking, and then anyone who parks without a permit would be subject to ticketing or towing.
Several residents also took issue with the multipurpose rooms proposed in the basement. In previous applications, the rooms where called classrooms and the ISKON Central New Jersey website still includes information on a spiritual university and a cultural center.
It states, "In 2006, the center (ISKON Central New Jersey) was able to purchase a 6 acre plot of land in Old Bridge, New Jersey for the construction of a magnificent temple and cultural center. This new facility will offer a spiritual university for systematic study of Bhakti-Yoga, an educational institution to encourage spiritual and moral values for children and youth, a yoga center to share the art of mantra meditation."
At the April 10 meeting, when ISKON Central New Jersey board of directors member Babanbar Kumar was asked about the rooms, he stated that there is no university planned for the temple. The rooms will be used during the worship service for a children's Sunday school, where children will be taught about Hare Krishna in a way they can understand.
"We named it classroom, thinking Sunday school classroom," said Kumar. "It's actually not a school, so why don't we say multi-purpose room. And that's actually what it is. We're hoping it would clear the smoke. We have not mentioned a school."
What Happens Next?
All decisions that the ISKON center makes must be made through a board of directors, Kumar said. Although two board members were present, they cannot accept any binding conditions without having spoken with the board.
The Planning Board requested that the board of directors consider accepting the following four stipulations:
- All major festivals be held offsite, never onsite
- Multipurpose rooms to be used for Sunday school, never a university
- Food distribution after services is to be for congregates, not the community at large
- Have a police officer present at minor festivals to monitor the crowd and assist with traffic entering and exiting the temple
Due to time constraints, the hearing was not completed and no decisions were made. It will continue at the Planning Board's next meeting on May 1.