Board approves church expansion despite protests

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

METUCHEN — A local church that wants to expand its facilities got the blessing of borough officials last week.

Despite relentless opposition from Rose Street residents over the course of the hearings on the application, the Metuchen’s Zoning Board unanimously granted the Metuchen Assembly of God Inc., 130 Whitman Ave., variances to expand their 20-year-old combined church, day care and elementary school into a more contemporary and spacious facility on Thursday.

The applicant, who will return to the Zoning Board next month for site plan approval on the application, proposes to remove the existing freestanding day care facility, relocate the modular classroom building to the rear of the 2.8-acre property, and construct a 165-by-82-foot, two-story addition to the north side of the school building. The expanded facility will include a gymnasium and four new classrooms, an expanded 112-space parking lot, and an outdoor recreation area.

The Rev. Donald McFarren and his wife, Cynthia, the principals in Metuchen Assembly of God Inc., testified that the expansion was necessary to meet the school and day care’s high student demand.

If site plan approval is granted, the facility could accommodate a roughly 25 percent increase in student and day care enrollment.

Thursday marked McFarren’s the 11th appearance before the Zoning Board this year. Due to the size of the expan­sion, the board rejected his pre­vious application several months ago. The current application is a scaled down ver­sion of the original plan.

"All they want to do is teach, all they want to do is help children," the appli­cant’s attorney, George Otlowski Jr., of Stark & Stark, Princeton, told the board. "I don’t think we should have to compro­mise anymore."

But a slew of roughly 25 residents, who have seen the church expand its fa­cility several times in the past two decades, said enough is enough.

"In all these years, I have never
op­posed the church. But I see no reason for the expansion other than the fact that the applicant has a simple desire to expand," said Pat O’Neil of Rose Street.

"Not only are parents going to drop their kids off, driving over 25 mph down Rose Street, I’m worried about the first aid squad getting through the street. … Also, there are kids who live in the neighborhood who bike and walk to the pool. I’m concerned about the safety in the neighborhood," another Rose Street resident, Sarah Arnhardt, said.

Heightened noise, inadequate buffers, carbon monoxide, flooding, suburban sprawl and homeowners’ rights were also on the residents’ roster of concerns.

In rebuttal to the concerns, licensed planner Peter Steck, Maplewood, told the board that the proposed area, which is bordered by Route 287, is already very noisy.

"Being that this is a church, this
ap­plication automatically meets positive cri­teria," Steck said. "Nobody will have a view of the whole composition. … If this application is dismissed, you could get a row of single-family homes instead."

Greg McFarren, the applicants’ son and the church’s assistant pastor, told the residents to get used to development.

"Metuchen is a fastly growing commu­nity," he said. "Development and progress is happening, and any progress comes with a price at any time," he said. "This application is not extraordinary, and I caution you to be understanding."

As the board reached its verdict, Cynthia McFarren let out a sigh of relief.

"That’s one step in the right direction," she said. "We are very thankful."

However, area residents, hoping to appeal the board’s decision, said McFar­ren’s relief might only be