Opponents and proponents of the Chai Center Shul at Short Hills will have to wait a few weeks before voicing their opinions on the synagogue’s application for permission to build.
Public comment on the shul’s request for variances, scheduled for the Jan. 30 hearing of the Millburn Zoning Board of Adjustment, was postponed after testimony — from the synagogue’s rabbi, one of its neighbors, and the town planner — ran long.
Public comment instead was rescheduled for Monday, Feb. 13, the next scheduled meeting. Individual comments on that date will be limited to three minutes per person.
Monday’s hearing was the latest chapter in the synagogue’s years-long effort to build a 16,350-square-foot building on a combined 1.8-acre lot on Jefferson Road.
The meeting had been moved from Millburn Town Hall to the Hartshorn School to accommodate the number of people who planned to comment. Instead, some 150 audience members heard hours of testimony from Ciro Gamboni, a neighbor who suggested the Chai Center would be too large for the site; Rabbi Mendel Bogomilsky; and Paul Phillips, the town planner.
Members of the board continued to press Bogomilsky on whether there will be adequate parking at the site, why he sought an exemption to a town rule requiring a religious institution to be constructed on three acres of land, and whether the congregation will not grow much larger than it already is.
In one heated exchange, board member Roger Manshel asked the rabbi, “Why haven’t you addressed the fact that the building is too big for the lot size?”
Bogomilsky responded, “I don’t know how to answer that. How does this not meet the zoning requirements?”
Manshel responded, “You don’t see anything the way the town sees it. You see everything from a different perspective and you do what you want.”
Some opponents began clapping and shouted, “Yes!”
Just then, a woman in the back of the room shouted, “Where’s Hitler today? He couldn’t come?”
“Shame on you,” an audience member shot back. “Shame on you!” the original woman responded.