Planning Board, Neighbors Suspicious of Church of God's Plans

Board members and public questioned if the proposed expansion is really what Church of God says it is or if they even owned the property

Ridgewood Patch, New Jersey/September 7, 2011

The planning board told Church of God it needed to “pull it together” after finding that countless aspects of its application for two two-story additions were lacking critical information. Beyond that, members of the board–as well suspicious residents–speculated the addition was not what it appeared and Church of God had bigger, more grandiose plans than presented.

Applicant architect Hector Munoz-Barris presented his plan for two two-story additions at Church of God on Godwin Avenue on Tuesday night. However, testimony revealed that the applicants may not have done their due diligence, as he and attorney David Rutherford did not know fundamental questions like if there was a kitchen at the current site, or even more interestingly, who actually owned the property. Neighbors left the meeting believing Church of God was seeking a larger space to accommodate larger events, and not simple additions as presented. As a result of these suspicions and potential application oversights, the hearing will continue in October.

Under a barrage of questioning from planning board members, Munoz-Barris provided no explanation as to why no HVAC units on the roof were included in the plans.

“I don’t know, I have no information on that,” admitted Munoz-Barris.

Current HVAC units are in the basement, which was not revealed in earlier plans and led to a postponement of the original hearing in July.

Additionally, there may be too many cooks in the kitchen if plans go through, according to testimony. Or, rather, there may be too many kitchens, period.

Another pressing concern was why the proposed kitchen was so large. There are three walk-in refrigerators called for in the plans, but the mechanicals for the fridges were not in the plans, which puzzled the board. Munoz-Barris was unsure if there was even an existing kitchen on the property.

If there was, it was very small, Munoz-Barris said in response to the board’s inquiry.

Also of contention would be the proposed second floor storage area, slated to be the largest room in the building. Munoz-Barris had no answer as to why so much storage would be needed.

There were also continuity errors in the plans, planning board members said. Items did not match on the drafts provided, prompting a testy, frustrated response from planning board counsel Gail Price.

“You need to pull it together,” Price said.

Residents too expressed concerns, as expected. George Williams, of Godwin Avenue, questioned if Church of God should be in front of the planning board at all, and for a reason one might not expect.

“The applicant is not the property owner,” Williams said. “I think it’s highly unusual to have gone this far in the proceedings with incorrect information about who the applicant is.”

Williams revealed that in May 2010 the property was sold to another World Mission Society organization for the sum of one dollar.

Attorney David Rutherford said he was unaware of the transaction, as the property deed he’d been working with was from 2006, when Church of God originally purchased the property.

The architect said the primary days used were on Saturdays and on Sunday, although Munoz-Barris admitted he did not know what the church’s current capacity was.

Residents speculated that the new spaces were masquerading as spaces to hold large functions, like cocktails or weddings. “The storage area is prime real estate,” said planning board member Constantino Suriano.

“Twenty-one hundred square feet [of storage] really just seems voluminous to me,” added board member Nancy Bigos.

Some of the “study” areas would be used for prayer groups, contended the applicants. But with full bathrooms attached to the studies, those in attendance weren’t so sure.

Also suspicious was the pastor’s residence on the second floor contained no “living area,” instead three bedrooms and a kitchen. The pastor told the architect that he had no need for a living space, as he spent all his time downstairs.

Concerned neighbors, at least a half dozen in attendance, said they know one thing – the church is busy all hours of the day and night. The parking lots are full, they said, and traffic is a constant, even at 5:00 a.m.

“Often times I won’t even go towards Godwin because there’s so much volume coming through,” said Melrose Place resident Tom Mc Gee of his morning commute.

The hearing will continue on October 18.

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