Montgomery to Maharishi: Thanks but no thanks

Planning Board panel meditates only briefly before rejecting request to build Global Country of World Peace facility on Cherry Valley Road.

Princeton Packet/December 5, 2006
By Jake Uitti

Montgomery — Representatives of Global Country of World Peace — an organization started by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of Transcendental Meditation, a movement that advocates world peace through meditation in schools, vedic architecture and herbal remedies — came before the Montgomery Township Master Plan Committee on Monday with a request to open a facility off Cherry Valley Road.

Montgomery officials said thanks, but no thanks.

The township's Master Plan Committee unanimously found that the request violates both the township's zoning and its Master Plan.

"It is an institutional use in a residential zone," said Steven Sacks-Wilner, chairman of the Master Plan Committee. "And not just any residential zone — it is an environmentally sensitive, very preserved, important part of the town and it's our edge with Princeton."

The location of the proposed College of Vedic Medicine is a 60-acre tract at the corner of Cherry Valley and Mountain View roads.

The practice of Vedic medicine espouses therapeutic measures relating to physical, mental, social and spiritual harmony. Former students of the Maharishi include the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Clint Eastwood.

The proposed development was for a college-like facility with students focusing on transcendental meditation, massage therapy and preventative healing, among other techniques.

Officials from the organization said the facility would be a research university for students to meditate, explore the human consciousness and apply their findings from the meditation to research to better the world.

The facility would include a spa, an administration building, parking lots, classroom facilities and housing and dining.

Although the site would be used as an "educational facility," said Paul Potter, regional director for the New York-based group, it would not be the type of college with loud parties and other aspects of college life that often come to mind. Instead, it would be mostly older people meditating, he said.

Officials from Global Country of World Peace said they liked the site off Cherry Valley Road because it was quiet, peaceful and embedded in nature.

They said they were seeking a site in the Princeton area because it would connect with Albert Einstein's idea of "unified field" — or an attempt to unify the world's fundamental forces and interactions.

"It would be a very powerful influence of peace to the whole world," said Mr. Potter. "We are here to offer that opportunity."

The proposed site includes wetlands and stream corridors, Mr. Sacks-Wilner said, and it is an area of the township with unpaved roads and extensive open-space holdings.

Mayor Louise Wilson said she encouraged the organization to look at other parts of the township that were not zoned residential that may be more suitable.

Officials from Global Country of World Peace can make an application before the township's Zoning Board of Adjustment if they wish to request permission to build on the site, or they can go to the Township Committee and request a zoning change.

They can seek zoning variances based on special reasons, township Planner Richard Coppola said, but they would have to demonstrate that their application does not violate township zoning or the Master Plan.

Global Country of World Peace officials would have to demonstrate that the tract is particularly well suited for what they want to do, more so than other tracts, and that the proposed facility does not have any adverse impact on the public good, and that it is compatible with zoning and the Master Plan.

Dozens of Montgomery residents came to Monday's meeting and expressed concern about the proposed facility, claiming it would take up too much land and, as a nonprofit organization, would not pay property taxes.

Global Country of World Peace also recently met with Princeton officials to informally talk about a location on Bunn Drive in Princeton Township for an 18-acre facility between Poor Farm Road and Herrontown Woods.

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