House of worship receives preliminary approval from Manalapan planners

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MANALAPAN – The Manalapan Planning Board has granted preliminary site plan approval to the Evangelical Church of the Assemblies of God, which has plans to construct a house of worship on Craig Road.

The board conducted a virtual meeting on June 25 and following several hours of testimony from representatives of the applicant, voted 8-1 to grant preliminary site plan approval, with several conditions.

The board’s attorney, Ron Cucchiaro, said the applicant, which is represented by attorney Peter Klouser, of the firm Heilbrunn Pape, Millstone Township, would have to satisfy the conditions and then return to seek final approval from the board. Another public hearing will be held at that time, he said.

Klouser said he has been working with the board’s professional engineer and planner for 18 months, after his client identified the 14-acre parcel as a desired location for a house of worship.

The property has 900 feet of frontage on Craig Road and is across from where Symmes Drive intersects with Craig Road, according to testimony provided to the board. The applicant has provided 125 parking spaces, where 124 parking spaces are required.

The proposed two-story building will include a 370-seat sanctuary, 13 classrooms, a social hall and offices, Klouser said, adding that a house of worship is a permitted conditional use in the residential-environmental zone. An existing home and garage would be removed from the property during the construction of the house of worship.

Alex Papirnik, a member of the congregation, testified that services would be held twice on Sunday: from 10 a.m. to noon and from 5-7 p.m. The morning service attracts about 200 people, including children between the ages of 3 and 14 who attend Sunday school. The evening service attracts fewer people, Papirnik said.

He testified that wedding and funeral services would take place at the house of worship, but not baptisms, which are conducted off-site. There will not be any outdoor uses at the location and there will not be any alcohol use.

Papirnik said a youth group for individuals between the ages of 15 and 21 meets on Friday night, while choir practice is held on Thursday night.

Traffic engineer John Rea testified on behalf of the applicant and said he conducted vehicle counts at the location. Rea said he assumed 140 vehicles would leave the site at the same time (i.e., at the conclusion of the two Sunday services).

Accounting for other vehicles traveling on Craig Road, at noon, the house of worship’s driveway would operate at a “C” level of service (on a scale of “A” to “F”) and at 7 p.m., the driveway would operate at a “B” level of service, he said.

“The driveway will operate within the acceptable parameters,” Rea testified.

For drivers making a left turn from Craig Road into the house of worship’s driveway, the level of service would be the “A” level at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., he said. Drivers making a right turn from Craig Road into the driveway would have no delay, according to Rea.

During public comment, Diane Padlo, of Symmes Drive, complimented the applicant and its representatives for presenting a plan for development that is “largely compliant with the residential-environmental zone.”

If the project receives all necessary approvals, she asked the board members to formalize a condition that would not permit a third party to use the building.

Padlo also discussed the movement of vehicles on Craig Road, specifically a vehicle heading toward Tennent Road that comes upon a vehicle turning left into the house of worship’s driveway.

She asked if there could be a lane dedicated for left turns of if there would be room on the right for the driver on Craig Road to pass the vehicle that was stopped.

Rea said there are standards that must be met for a left turn lane to be included in such a plan and he said in this case, those standards, which are based on the volume of vehicles at a location, have not been met.

“We aren’t close to meeting the guideline for a left turn lane,” he said.

Whether or not there would be room for one vehicle to pass a vehicle that has stopped to turn left will depend upon how close to the center line of Craig Road the stopped vehicle is, Rea said.

Klouser summed up the presentation, saying, “The applicant found a piece of property in Manalapan that is appropriate and zoned for the proposed use. The property has environmental constraints and the applicant has made a significant effort and designed a plan to comply with your ordinances. I ask you to look favorably upon it.”

Board Chairwoman Kathryn Kwaak made a motion to grant preliminary site plan approval to the Evangelical Church of the Assemblies of God application. Board member Todd Brown seconded the motion.

Voting “yes” were Kwaak, Brown, Mayor Jack McNaboe, Township Committeeman Barry Jacobson, John Castronovo, Barry Fisher, Steven Kastell and Brian Shorr. Board member Alan Ginsberg voted “no.”

According to the website ag.org, “Currently the Assemblies of God USA and Assemblies of God organizations around the world make up the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination with some 69 million members and adherents. … People who need help in coming to know God, have problems in their home, or are troubled by any of a multitude of other things that keep people from being happy and fulfilled, need someone who cares. And that’s the message of our fellowship.”