House of worship receives final approval from Manalapan planners

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

Final site plan approval was granted with a 9-0 vote during the board’s Oct. 14 meeting. The meeting was conducted in a virtual manner.

On June 25, 2020, the board granted the applicant preliminary site plan approval, with several conditions.

Speaking during the Oct. 14 meeting, the board’s attorney, Ron Cucchiaro, said those conditions have been met.

The applicant was represented by attorney Peter Klouser, of the firm Heilbrunn Pape, Millstone Township.

The 14-acre parcel where the house of worship will be built 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 on-site parking spaces, where 124 parking spaces are required. There will be a driveway on Craig Road to serve the house of worship.

A house of worship is a permitted conditional use in the residential-environmental zone where it will be constructed. An existing home and garage will be removed from the property during the construction of the house of worship, according to Klouser.

The two-story building will include a 370-seat sanctuary, 13 classrooms, a social hall and offices.

On Oct. 14, Klouser and architect Daniel Vitenson provided the board members and members of the public with an update on the project.

Klouser and Vitenson said the property to be developed has been reduced slightly as the applicant will relinquish some land to the township for road improvements.

In addition, they said a proposed basement has been eliminated from the plan; a music room has been added to the second floor; a utility room has been moved to the first floor from the basement; and required approvals have been secured from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Vitenson said the building will have sprinklers and will be fully accessible to individuals who have a handicap.

When the meeting was opened to public comment, resident Frank Vono said, “I don’t believe this building is a positive result for this area or for the township as a whole … what is said in theory (regarding issues such as traffic impact) is not what occurs in reality. When does development become too much?”

Cucchiaro reminded the board members and members of the public the proposed house of worship is a permitted conditional use at the Craig Road location and that the applicant had met the conditions previously imposed.

“Increases in traffic for a permitted use cannot be used as a basis to deny an application,” the attorney said.

Responding to comments Vono made about the potential impact of the new building on the property value of nearby homes, Cucchiaro said case law is clear that “the board cannot consider property values as a reason to approve or to deny an application.”

A motion was made to grant the application amended preliminary site plan approval and final site plan approval and the motion was passed in a 9-0 vote from the board members.

Previous testimony regarding the Evangelical Church of the Assemblies of God application indicated worship services will be held twice on Sunday: from 10 a.m. to noon and from 5-7 p.m. There will be a Sunday school for children between the ages of 3 and 14.

Testimony provided in 2020 indicated wedding services and funeral services will 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.

A youth group for individuals between the ages of 15 and 21 is expected to meet on Friday night, while choir practice is expected to be held on Thursday night.

According to the website, “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.”