A Coptic Christian church's expansion plans drew a standing room only crowd at a Cedar Grove Zoning Board meeting Tuesday night, with more than 50 people showing up to weigh in on the application.
St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church, located at 5 Woodstone Drive in Cedar Grove, aims to completely demolish its existing church and rebuild the facility to be able to house the needs of its congregation.
But a group of more than two dozen nearby residents argues that the expansion will increase traffic and eliminate too many trees, changing the landscape of the neighborhood.
St. Mark's proposal calls for expanding the church from 15,000 to 24,000 square feet, with the capacity for 492 seats.
In addition, the church is seeking approval to enlarge the parking area and take on a more “coptic design,” said Attorney Robert Gaccione, speaking on behalf of the church.
“We belong to a church 2,000 years and we have a large history behind us,” said Father Moises Bogdady who has been a priest in the church for 11 years. “We need a place suitable for the history, and need our kids to have the classroom of their Sunday school to be in the same building and not across the street.”
The church currently hooks up television screens for congregation members to watch the service from other rooms when they are at capacity.
“This is not Holy,” said Father Bogdady.
Concerned residents of nearby streets have sought their own council, Anthony Fiorello, to represent a group of about 30 homeowners from the surrounding area, their families as well as the Bradford Bath and Tennis Club.
“(The proposed church) has a steeple that is 61 feet high,” said Fiorello. “This cathedral will stand out starkly around its neighbors and the parking configuration is ultra-hazardous.”
Robert and Lauren Meyer of Westview Court are among those represented by Fiorello.
“Traffic is already dangerous,” said Lauren. “If the church grows the traffic will worsen.”
Robert says he is concerned with church-goers parking on both sides of the surrounding streets, making it difficult for traffic to pass, especially when doors are opening and closing and people are walking in the road, he said.
The church currently has 70 parking spaces on its property which includes the church, the church community center across the street as well as a building to house the church's priests.
The proposed facility would provide a total of 196 parking spaces to accommodate the church, the community center, Sunday school and all religious activities.
In addition, both of the proposed new lots will have access from Woodstone Drive which adds a second driveway to the church. The church currently only has one driveway on Woodstone Ave.
“A second driveway on Woodstone will cause better circulation on the site,” said Gaccione. “The police have requested a no parking fire zone along the curb on the street. Increasing the number of parking spaces will remove the cars that park on the street.”
The opposition also sites concerns as to the 111 trees which need to be taken down to make room for the parking lots. There are 21 minor trees and 90 major trees which will need to be removed should the application pass.
The church will be putting 147 trees back, but most of them are minor trees, said Site Engineer Calisto Bertin.
Residents still remain concerned about water runoff from the elimination of trees, traffic congestion and noise.
The Zoning Board will still need to hear from several other expert witnesses including an architect, traffic expert and a planner.
The Board will meet on January 8 to continue the discussion.