NORTH BRUNSWICK – Representatives of the RCCG House of Faith have signed a lease with Hidden Lake Towne Center LLC for space at 245 Towne Center Drive in the Hidden Lake section of North Brunswick.
The three existing buildings totaling 13,500 square feet are in a Planned Unit Development zone, which allows for a house of worship.
RCCG is proposing to convert an empty construction sales office in Building 4 into a worship center, totaling 2,200 square feet. No variance is required.
“They are looking to move into an existing space,” Rosalind Westlake, the applicant’s attorney, said during the North Brunswick Planning Board meeting on Feb. 9. “They are not looking to make any changes of any kind” aside from some interior work.
Senior Pastor Deji Lana said the church was established two to three years ago. Members initially met at a location off Joyce Kilmer Avenue in North Brunswick, since he is a former North Brunswick resident who was married by Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack in 2005.
The church members have been meeting virtually during the coronavirus pandemic. Lana said they are now looking for a place to gather and worship, and have entered into a lease for seven years with one option to renew for five years.
The lease restricts them to a house of worship.
Currently, the congregation has about 20 to 30 adult worshippers; in total, with children, there are about 45 members. Lana said he expects the church to grow “by the grace of God if we do a good job” but it generally takes five to seven years to reach 120 members.
There will be seating for 124 members inside the church hall.
If, years from now, the church needs to expand, Henry Glickman, president of the commercial division of Kaplan Companies, which is the overall owner of Hidden Lake Towne Center LLC, said there is another 1,500 square feet available on the same floor, but the applicant would have to come back before the board for approval.
Lana said since he works a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. day job, evening weekday services/Bible study/counseling would be limited to 7 p.m. Wednesday and 7 p.m. Friday. Choir rehearsals take place after 3 p.m. Saturdays to prepare for Sunday service. Sunday service is held from 10 a.m. to about noon, with fellowship until about 1 p.m.
Music will be limited to after 5 p.m. on weekdays and after 3 p.m. on Saturdays, but allowed all day on Sundays. The cutoff time is generally 10 p.m., Lana said, but that is a “conservative” timeframe since services usually only last up to two hours.
The Pentecostal church has a drum set, keyboard and bass guitar, but Lana said generally the music is played early on in the service, followed by preaching and fellowship.
“I want to assure the board and the town we will be good neighbors, which is why we are not sparing any expense to make sure the soundproofing is done well and done by an expert,” Lana said.
Licensed architect Chris Teeter said the walls and hallway will be soundproof so noise does not interfere with other tenants on the second floor, nor the surrounding residential community. He testified that the parameters will be within the township’s sound ordinance.
He said there will be “dampening” of the sound.
Lana said special events are “very few” and occur on days such as Easter or Christmas. He said occasionally a guest preacher may visit on the weekend. He said the purpose is primarily worship, not weddings or parties.
He also said there is no sublease so the space cannot be rented out to third parties.
“That was one of the reasons why we decided to go into this lease,” Glickman said. “We thought there would be very few impacts on any of the co-tenants of the center based on the times they would basically be meeting.”
During the public portion of the meeting, John Hodge, who is a former board member and resident of Willowbrook Drive since 1987, said the “peace, tranquility, no noise, all the young people could study, no noise” is what is appealing about the neighborhood.
He cautioned about noise levels, and said township inspectors will not be working on weekends to check decibel levels when music will be played.
Township planner Thomas Vigna explained that approved uses for the site include a music studio, a dance studio and a martial arts studio, which all generate loud noise and “are permitted uses that are not required to attenuate their sound.”
Vigna reiterated that the applicant will soundproof the church for the benefit of the co-tenants and the residential neighborhood.
Resident Linda Massa noted that during the summer when the pool is open, parking spots are hard to come by.
However, Glickman said 31 spaces will be designated for the church parking. No church van is anticipated.
“We are not pests, we are not nuisances … we want to positively impact the town,” Lana said.
The board members unanimously approved the conditional use and granted site plan review approval.
“We hope to be a good neighbor to you, too, pastor, and to your congregation,” resident Angeline Bishop Thomas said. “There are no hard feelings from this side of Willowbrook Drive. It’s just that we want to make sure the life we love here with our neighbors and our pets and our families will just continue.”
In related news, Glickman said the entire three-building complex of Towne Center is 42,879 square feet comprised of mixed uses: 31% retail, 39% non-retail and 25% vacancies. There is a mix of retail and non-retail on the ground floors, with non-retail uses on the second floors.
The complex was built in 1985.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the buildings were 20% vacant, he said.
The complex is accessible from the northwest and southeast sides from Willowbrook Drive, and from Pembroke Avenue to the northeast.
There are 199 parking spaces. Glickman said most parking spots used during daytime and nighttime are on the northern side. The entrance to the church is on the east side, and the lot is “virtually empty” because there are a lot of vacancies there, plus low usage by the remaining tenants, he said.
Some tenants are open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., some open after 3 p.m., only four tenants are open on Sundays.
In addition, in 2015 Kaplan Companies received approval to convert the commercial site at Building 2 into age-restricted housing. The company has not moved forward because combining commercial and retail uses in the same building did not make economic sense, Glickman said.
Instead, when the current leases in Building 2 expire, the company will move forward to the conversion into nine residential units. Glickman said the last lease expires on Dec. 31, 2022.
He also said the planned adult community would share the same existing parking space.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org