Millburn Zoning Board Greenlights Buddhist Center Despite Parking Concerns

In a notable development at the recent Millburn Town Zoning Board meeting, members granted a use variance for the establishment of a Dharma Chakra Buddhist center on Main Street, in a space previously challenged by parking and flooding issues. The decision followed extensive deliberation over the center’s impact on local parking availability and its adherence to contractual parking lease terms.

Representative Anthony Silla presented the proposal for the Buddhist center, outlining the intended use of the property for meditation, teaching meditation techniques, and Buddhist classes. Frank Hall, an architect and member of the center, detailed the volunteer-run nature of the center and its community service orientation, explaining that the center would provide meditation classes and spiritual teachings. He further elaborated on the daily activities, membership size, and the center’s impact on parking and class attendee numbers.

The center’s representatives anticipated holding events on certain Saturdays, with an estimated attendance of 15 to 25 people, and larger events twice a year with up to 30 attendees. Regular Sunday study programs were expected to draw 10 to 12 participants. With 28 parking spaces available on weekends, the center did not foresee a need for additional parking. They highlighted a 15-year tenure at Millburn mall.

Discussions also addressed the lease and parking arrangements. The center has a parking lease for the site that includes specific usage hours and is considering options for additional parking if necessary. While there was no finalized agreement, the center had approached a church about parking possibilities. The center emphasized a non-profit approach, focusing on class attendance rather than profitability.

A licensed engineer and planner gave testimony on the property, spotlighting its position within the R8 residential multifamily zone and its proximity to a flood plain. The engineer stressed the heavily regulated nature of the property due to flood plain restrictions and described the substantial improvement clause that limits new multifamily housing development. Additionally, the engineer’s qualifications and review materials were discussed.

Furthermore, the meeting addressed the building’s layout and history, including the challenges faced by previous occupants due to parking limitations and flooding. The applicant proposed converting the vacant space into the Dharma Chakra Buddhist Center, which would function as an instructional school/studio rather than a religious house of worship. The proposed parking layout included angled, tandem, and reserved tenant spaces. Variance relief was contemplated for front yard parking, loading space, and signage within a residential zone. The landscape plan and lighting design were also discussed, with intentions to replace tall vegetation and ensure compliance with lighting standards.

The applicant requested a use variance to allow another non-conforming commercial use to replace the existing one, as well as C variances for parking, loading, and signage, and a waiver for the environmental impact statement. Arguments for the positive criteria highlighted the promotion of public health, general welfare, energy conservation through shared parking, and the site’s suitability for the proposed use. Negative criteria were addressed, with assertions that there would be no substantial detriment to public good or impairment to the master plan and zoning ordinance.

Public opinion during the meeting was mixed, with some audience members expressing concerns about downtown parking impact, especially in the evenings. Suggestions were made to impose parking limits, while others were worried about the parking lease’s stability. Board members appeared divided, balancing support for the center’s use against parking concerns and reliance on the parking lease.

The board also approved a variance for alterations to a garage structure, including lowering the roof and walls, as presented by a professional architect. The changes were deemed non-detrimental to the neighborhood and compliant with the zoning plan.

A separate discussion revolved around a proposed flat roof on another property, where the owner sought approval for a decorative railing. The board debated the roof’s purpose and potential future uses, opting to carry the application to the subsequent meeting for additional consideration.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.
Annette Romano
Zoning Board Officials:
Craig Ploetner, Jessica Glatt, Joe Caulfield, Chandru Harjani, Amy Lawrence, Gary Rosen, Regina Truitt, Pricilla Saraf, Xiaoxuan (Derek) Peng, Robert Simon (Board Attorney), Eileen Davitt (Zoning Officer/Board Secretary)

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