RUMSON — On Monday, the borough zoning board unanimously approved a modified plan for the expansion of Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church.
According to Rev. Michael Manning, the parish sought to expand the church to accommodate an increase in the number of parishioners attending weekly services.
The vote to affirm the application following a relatively brief meeting of less than 90-minutes that included some discussion about handicapped parking and a few comments from neighbors about the project.
Prior to the vote, board members offered their support for the project and commended the parish’s efforts to scale back the project as it was first proposed about a decade ago.
Board member Scott Thompson called the church’s presentation over the course of the three recent hearings “very professional.”
“I think the parish knows what the constituents need,” offered Board Chairman Alex Shanley.
Three Ward Ave. residents expressed concerns over the size of the project, the amount of lot coverage and traffic flow in and out of the school.
John Grossarth, who lives across from the church, voiced the strongest objections about the size of the expansion, saying, “To allow the town to pave more of God’s green earth is upsetting to me,” Grossarth said prior to the board’s vote.
“It’s not as big as we would have liked, perhaps,” said the Rev. Michael Manning, who has been pastor since 2004, “but it’s beautiful,” he said, noting that the modified plan meets the criteria of providing “beauty, function and capacity.”
The expansion, Manning told the board back in December, was designed to accommodate approximately 600 people who attend church services in the parish.
The lightly attended hearing this week and the few public comments were a far cry from the original hearings, when representatives for the parish first appeared before the zoning board with a more ambitious plan to expand the church and elementary school. That proposal proved highly controversial, with area residents voicing strong objections over its size and the potential impact on the neighborhood. Parishioners were also divided on the proposal, which was strongly championed by then-pastor Rev. Joseph Hughes.
After a series of lengthy and contentious hearings the board denied the application, which caused the parish to institute a lawsuit to overturn the local decision.
Hughes was later arrested and convicted of misappropriating church funds, which, in part, led the diocese and the church to put off what at that time was expected to be an $8 million project.
Eventually, a settlement was negotiated and the parish moved forward with the school renovations and now stands poised to begin the expansion of the church.
According to the parish website, the Diocese of Trenton has endorsed the project.
According to Holy Cross’s attorney, Michael Bruno, the project does not need any additional variances other than what has already been approved.
Some members of the planning board participated in the vote on the Holy Cross expansion so that zoning board members who are affiliated with the parish could recuse themselves from the hearing.