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Vol. LXIV, No. 21
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
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Westerly Road Church Awaits Decision With Meeting to Continue in June

Dilshanie Perera

Township Hall was packed with well over 100 people for the second installment of the Westerly Road Church (WRC) hearing last Thursday. WRC representatives explained their revised project proposal for building a new church on Princeton Ridge in the 3.5-hour session. No final determination was reached as the hearing that is slated to continue in June.

Details of the project were amended according to the feedback received during the April 8 meeting, which resulted in “revised and re-engineered plans,” explained Stark and Stark attorney Daniel Haggerty, who was representing the Church.

Project Engineer Gary Vecchio of Taylor Wiseman and Taylor noted that the new designs moved the building 50 feet farther south in order to allow for a different parking configuration. Parts of the church were stacked to two stories so that the total site disturbance was reduced from 8.1 acres to 7 acres of the 18.5-acre tract.

The two story design allowed WRC to expand its size from the originally proposed 43,940 square feet to 45,068 square feet, and make room for 226 parking spaces with 52 banked for future use. The addition of rain gardens and bioretention swales on the parking lot were also included in the design revisions.

Architect Michael Hughes from Mann Hughes Architecture said that the goal of the changes was to “compact the footprint as much as possible while stacking” and to find the “most efficient configuration possible.” To that end, half the Sunday school classrooms and storage space were moved from the ground floor to a second floor at the southeast corner of the building.

Planning board members were generally dissatisfied with the extent of the proposed changes. Audrey Chen noted that she was “a little underwhelmed” by the percentage of the total square footage that was shifted upstairs. “A huge proportion of the building is going toward classrooms,” she noted, adding that she was “puzzled” by why so much space was devoted to the approximately 15 classrooms. Only the rooms housing 5th graders through high school students were moved to the second floor in the new plans.

Mr. Haggerty pointed out that the spaces would be used by approximately 70 home schooled students on four days during the week for purposes that are part of the ministry of the church.

Senior Pastor Matt Ristuccia remarked that while WRC wanted to grow its Sunday school program to involve more than the 100 students it currently serves, he emphasized, “I assure you, there is no stealth plan toward starting a school.”

Peter Madison of the Planning Board said, “I’m disappointed that so little space is moved to the second floor,” while Board member Barbara Trelstad wondered if making a balcony part of the design for the worship area would have been “a little more economical in your use of space.”

Sustainability and green building expert Tad Radzinski notified the Board that the Church “intends to seek LEED certification” for the new construction, referring to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. He added that efforts would be made to maximize open space, determine innovative storm water management measures, encourage carpooling and alternative means of transportation, minimize the heat island effect, minimize water consumption in the building, and reduce energy consumption as much as possible.

The new proposal received critiques from the Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC), as well as the Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB), who found the area of disturbance on the environmentally sensitive tract of land to be too great despite the adjustments made.

PEC Chair Matt Wasserman read a statement prepared by the commission, noting that even though the proposal had been revised, it “still largely ignores the goals of the Master Plan, and disregards the 2009 Environmental Resource Inventory.” The commission would like to see a significant reduction in impervious coverage, and development as far away from the wetlands as possible.

Likewise, SPRAB chair William Wolfe said he was hoping for a full two stories with stacked parking to reduce the overall disturbance. He suggested that the Board waive the 150-foot setback from Herrontown Road so that the Church could move its construction as far away from the wetlands area as possible.

Mr. Vecchio noted, “My concerns are the topography and the rock. It’s not possible, elevation-wise, to move the detention basin from where it is right now … we’re trying to get all the water to run to the south.”

Comments from neighbors and members of the WRC congregation were heard briefly, with the assurance that the rest of the public present would be able to voice their opinions during the June meeting. One Campbell Woods resident said that she had “nothing but water problems” since moving to her home, and suggested that more impervious surfacing in the area would exacerbate the problems. Ka Yee Lau, a junior at Princeton University and a member of the WRC congregation, noted that she was “excited by the possibility of a larger church space.”

The Westerly Road Church hearing will continue on Thursday, June 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the Township Municipal Complex. Members of the public are invited to attend.

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