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Emotions High Over Controversial Temple Zoning Issue

Application to be heard again in September.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment's more than three-year consideration of a s in Parsippany inspired a passionate debate at Wednesday night's meeting at Town Hall.

On more than one occasion during a more than three-hour meeting, attorney Robert Garofalo, representing the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, threw up his hands and alternately made a plea or demand to the board regarding allowing the group a use variance, "Can we finally bring this to a vote?"

The lawyer did not get his way. The ZBA ultimately adjourned the meeting with a plan to bring up the proposed temple's application again at its Sept. 5 meeting.

Before adjournment, however, there were plenty of fireworks as Garofalo raised doubt over the credibility of a witness, sparred verbally with another and even alleged that bias motivates opposition to the construction of a house of worship for the Bangladeshi- and Hindu-inspired religion, which boasts many members of Asian-Indian descent.

Board President Robert Iracane warned Garofalo to "bring it down a notch" several times as the attorney peppered witnesses with questions.

Garofalo called into question the qualifications of the first witness to speak in opposition to the temple, solar energy expert Samuel Paglianite, who called himself an engineer while admitting that he was not licensed.

After listening to a litany of questions that challenged Paglianite's claim that he was an expert, ZBA attorney George W. Johnson spoke.

"We cannot consider you an expert in engineering if you aren't a licensed engineer," Johnson said, thereby impeaching the witness and dismissing him from the proceedings.

The second witness apparently was unimpeachable. Jeffrey Jones is a principal and co-owner of commercial realty firm Baldwin Ventures, which stands at 40 Baldwin Road, adjacent to the Krishna temple's construction site. But that didn't stop Garofalo from lobbing a barrage of pointed questions at Jones, who twice accused the attorney of "badgering" him during his cross-examination.

Jones testified that while his building is 100 percent occupied, he was concerned that the presence of the temple would have a negative economic impact on his company in the future.

During a break in the meeting, Garofalo offered a thought.

"They don't support it because they don't like Indians," the lawyer speculated.

"That isn't true," Jones insisted to Patch. "My concern is the density of the property and the number of people who would occupy the site.

"It's the mixed-use nature of the building proposed... primarily the living facilities. They're going to have people living at the site."

The ISKCON temple in its currently planned form would take up 28,000 square feet of space, about half of the size originally proposed. (During previous meetings, temple officials sought to calm opponents' fears by agreeing to reduce the size of the building and to add foliage to provide buffering.) In addition to worship space, there would be educational and cultural programming, and previous testimony from ISKCON officials said pilgrims from around the world could come to the site and even reside on the property.

"They are calling this a 'cultural center,'" he said. "This is much, much more than a church in our estimation."

The realtor said that based on previous testimony regarding the application, he wasn't sure how many people would be in the building on "their high holy days and during their normal days."

"One of the density issues is because of the [] building directly across the street," he said. "I have to be cautious. This could have a negative impact on my effort to lease space. This is about the future marketability and viability of my building."

The next witness was area resident Jane Kimball.

Kimball, who lives in a historic home near the ISKCON property, told the board she was concerned that the temple would increase traffic along Troy, Baldwin and Mazdabrook roads, which she said are already heavily congested during rush hours.

She was also concerned about the possibility of people living in the building, noting that "pilgrims and visitors" could prove disruptive to nearby residences.

Kimball noted that her concerns had nothing to do with the temple's religion.

"I would have the same concerns if this were a Catholic church," she said.

Julia Peterson, a member of the township's Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, attempted to deliver a letter from Nancy Brighton, the panel's president, but was told that only Brighton, who was not present, could read the letter to the board of adjustment.

In previous testimony, Brighton voiced concerns regarding the welfare of other historic residences in the area, including the Isaac Beech House, which was built in 1795, and whether the temple, which would include tall towers, could change the character of the neighborhood.

Selene July 14, 2012 at 04:06 AM
Racism is alive and well in Parsippany..shame, shame, shame.....
VietNam Vet July 14, 2012 at 06:01 AM
No Selene its not racism, you people like to throw that word out there all the time. You want everybody to believe thats what is going on here. Why don't you find out why they are leaving Montville, they have that huge house and property on Jacksonville Rd that sets way back off the road and no one ever bothers them. Why do they have to leave there? I know the place because I've been there, because they were a customer of mine and I always had to go into the place seeking someone out in order to get paid. So take that "R" word and stick where it belongs.
John Depot July 15, 2012 at 03:19 PM
This is a zoning issue, not a race issue. The temple plans violate the zoning rules, plain and simple. This is why they seek the variances. There are far too many zoning variances allowed in Parsippany, and they need to stop if we are to preserve the overall mission of the town to be "The Place To Be". We should accept and embrace the zoning that is currently in place to protect our town.

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