Testimony on an application by the Chabad Jewish Center of Greater Hillsborough to use a former three-family house off New Amwell Road as a house of worship and Hebrew school will continue in November before the Board of Adjustment.
Rabbi Shmaya Krinsky told the board on Wednesday that Chabad is different from other Jewish congregations because it concentrates on outreach efforts. Eighty percent of the congregation’s activities, services and ceremonies, such as bar mitzvahs, will be performed at other sites.
For example, Krinsky said, High Holiday services were held earlier this week at a hotel in Franklin.
The rabbi said currently 10 people attend Saturday services. Next week Yom Kippur services will be held at the La Quinta Inn and Suites in Franklin; bar mitzvahs are usually held at the Jewish Community Center in Bridgewater, the rabbi said.
The plans call for the three-family house at 26 New Amwell Road, next to the Roycefield Swim Club, to be converted into a place for services and Hebrew school. The building sits behind a house at 22 New Amwell Road that will be used as a residence and office for the rabbi and his wife.
The converted house will have a room for teens in the basement, a 33-seat assembly room and four classrooms on the first floor and offices on the second floor, the rabbi said.
“We’re not building a place for 1,000 people,” Krinsky said.
Chabad Center of Hillsborough, one of only two Orthodox congregations in Somerset County, started in 2002 and was initially housed in a small donated office space at 450 Amwell Road, according to its website. When the congregation grew, Chabad rented a larger space in the same building, then moved to the 9,500-square-foot building on New Amwell Road now occupied by First Constitution Bank.
Chabad acquired the property at 26 New Amwell Road last year when it fell into foreclosure, Krinsky said. Chabad already owned the property at 22 New Amwell Road.
The rabbi said that the congregation’s three-year lease on the bank building has expired.
Chabad’s site plan calls for 14 parking spaces, one more than required by the township’s regulation of one parking space per three seats in the assembly room. The site plan also calls for a driveway from New Amwell Road to the building at 26 New Amwell Road. Township professionals said the proposed driveway was narrower than township requirements, which prompted board members to question whether it was wide enough to allow two vehicles to pass each other without having to back up and allow the other to pass.
Board member Helen Haines requested the municipal fire official to review the plan to determine if the driveway could accommodate emergency vehicles.
Joseph Fleming, the Chabad’s engineer, said he did not anticipate many problems because the times for services were specific and cars at one time would either be arriving or leaving.
The rabbi explained that parents of students will park at the bank, then walk with their children 1,100 feet to the school. The rabbi said Chabad would be responsible for clearing the sidewalk in front of the swim club during winter.
Steven Sacks-Wilner, attorney for Chabad, said the congregation’s plan is “a very modest proposal.”
The board will continue the hearing on the proposal on Nov. 7.