For the past 30 years, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness of New Jersey (the “Society”) has been worshipping in a nearly century-old mansion in Towaco, New Jersey. The Society draws about 120 worshippers each week. The high cost of maintenance and upkeep of the mansion, however, has prompted the Society’s leaders to seek a new temple to meet their needs. Further, the design of the mansion has prevented the Society from following its religious beliefs in some respects. For example, followers are required to walk a circle around the temple, known as circumambulate, but the design of the mansion forces them to walk in an L-shape.
In 2009, the Society submitted an application to the Parsippany Township Zoning Board of Adjustment (the “Board”) for a use variance to construct a Hare Krishna temple on nearly three acres of land. The Society planned to not only worship on the property but to host educational and cultural programming there, and provide lodging for pilgrims from around the word. The Society seeks to locate in Parsippany because approximately forty percent of its congregation lives in the Township.
Neighbors immediately opposed the proposed temple, citing concerns about the increase in traffic and cars parking on the narrow street, as well as the size of the temple structure. The site of the proposed temple is located near historic homes, such as the Isaac Beech House, built in 1795. In response to the neighbors’ concerns, the Society made several concessions, including downsizing the eastern and western wings of the proposed temple to decrease the structure’s “visual impact,” reducing the number of residential rooms, removing the museum, decreasing the number of classrooms, and adding a vegetated buffer to shield a proposed parking lot from the neighbors’ view.
On November 6, 2013, the Board granted the Society a use variance, with the chairman noting that the Society has made “numerous concessions” since submitting its original proposal. The next step is for the Board to approve a resolution to finalize the project, which is expected to occur in early 2014. By approving the proposal, it appears that the Board will avoid a potential RLUIPA claim by the Society. It is not clear whether the neighbors will seek judicial review of the approval.