There still is no resolution in the International Society of Krishna Consciousness' bid to win Zoning Board of Adjustment approval to proceed with its plan to construct a house of worship in the area of Baldwin and Troy roads. The board heard testimony from two witnesses at its Wednesday meeting before deciding to carry the application over to its April 3 meeting.
The matter has been deliberated for more than three years. A host of opponents have resisted the erection of a temple, among them owners of historic homes in the area and businesses such as Baldwin Ventures. They say the ISKCON plan would erode their quality of life and bring noise and traffic to an already congested area.
Wednesday's session began with a request from Robert Garofalo of Garofalo and O'Neill, the law firm representing ISKCON. Garofalo asked the board whether his client could amend its application to add a variance request regarding the proposed temple's parking lot, which would sit in the property's front yard.
Garofalo said a previous witness, professional planner John McDonough, testified that a variance would not be needed for the parking lot. Upon reflection, however, those representing the religious group decided to request the variance in case the planner's opinion was incorrect.
Opposition attorney Gary Hall objected to the request.
"The applicant's case rested in May," he said. "Their planner said you don't need a variance. I flagged the issue and got ignored by everyone.
"It's a little late in the day for that," Hall continued. "At some point you have to stick by your case. They didn't ask for a variance, they rested their case and then at the 11th hour, they ask for one?"
Garofalo defended his request.
"This board has dealt with applications for reconsideration before," he said. "As a quasi-judicial body, you have the right and obligation to reconsider."
Board attorney George Johnson seemed inclined to agree,
"There's a difference between completing your case and resting," he said. "I would suggest we consider the application to amend the application to add a variance for parking in the front yard and interpretation for why the variance is needed. ... The applicant must be sure that he's covered all bases in case a variance is needed."
With that, the board voted to grant Garofalo's request and testimony resumed. The applicant's lawyer called his first witness for the night, landscape architect Nicholas Gakos.
Gakos addressed questions regarding a portion of proposed temple site that is designated as a wetlands buffer and transition area.
The landscape designer said the applicant is prepared to make plan adjustments in an effort to obscure the parking lot.
"We've provided more screening," Gakos explained. "We have evergreen native juniper rows in a natural formation going parallel to the parking lot. There are native grasses [and] native pin oak (a shade tree) to add another layer of canopied buffer. To give it more ornamental flair, a native Sweet Bay magnolia would tie the new shade trees in combination with existing shade trees. The rest would be a meadow seed mix, non-maintained by mowing, to prevent sedimentation and runoff and stabilize the exiting soil."
He added that there would be no problem with implementing any recommendations Parsippany's Parks and Forestry Department might have.
The next bit of testimony highlighted a difference of opinion between the applicant and the opposition.
Garofalo's final witness of the night, architect Yogesh Mistry, testified that in his opinion the proposed temple would be a two-story building. The opposition insists that the structure would have three stories.
"The building is two levels, a lower level and an upper level," Mistry said."Within those floors there is a mezzanine or intermediate level that does not count as a story."
The architect said he defines the stories as the larger volumes.
"There is no clear definition of mezzanine in the ordinance, but it's common practice in the building code for... mezzanines not to count as stories."
Mistry said that the mezzanine level is intended to serve purely as a support space, which according to the ordinance is a building area used for storage, for containing utility equipment or as a parking garage. Plans to include a shower area and lockers for temple devotees in the intermediate area would be scrapped so that the entire space is given to storage and can more clearly meet the requirements of the law and be defined as support space and not as additional stories.
"I define this as a two-story building," Mistry asserted.
Attorney Gary Hall asked whether that assertion was the architect's personal opinion. Mistry answered yes, based on years of experience.
Jeff Jones of Baldwin Ventures asked Mistry whether there were windows on the first floor.
The architect said yes.
"The lower mezzanine: Is there a set of windows on that level?"
Jones continued. "On the second level, or third level, as I call it, is there a set of windows you can see?"
Mistry again answered in the affirmative.
"On the upper mezzanine, is there a set of windows there?"
Once more, the architect was compelled to answer yes.
Lawyer Garofalo offered a tidy bit of redirect.
"Is there any law that prohibits windows at intermediate level?" he asked Mistry.
"No," the architect replied.
With that, the board adjourned, carrying the ISKCON application to April 3.