Rami Nassar

Project Engineer Rami Nassar explains the Coptic church project to members of the Hamilton Township Planning Board and the public during a meeting Thursday.

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Residents voiced opposition Thursday to a proposed Coptic church at Wrangleboro and Pearce roads, saying it would lead to more traffic problems in their neighborhood.

Planning Board members and their professionals also raised concerns about parking for the proposed St. Paul Coptic Church of Atlantic County. Representatives of the project sought approvals at Thursday’s Planning Board meeting, but the application was continued to the Sept. 21 meeting.

The church would be located on 14.42 acres just north of the Atlantic City Expressway, project engineer Rami Nassar said. When complete, it would include a church, assembly hall, chapel, playground, pool, solar field and a parking area.

The first phase of the project would include the chapel and community center, with phase 2 moving forward once funding is available.

Nassar said they planned to have 116 parking spaces, far fewer than the 209 required by ordinance, and that a variance would be needed. Township Traffic Engineer Kevin Dixon said more spaces may be needed since his report was based on a total of 250 seats in the facility, not the 350 he became aware of at the meeting.

“There is a significant deficit,” he said. “We need to see a schedule of the various operations in the church to see how many spaces will be needed at any one time.”

Dixon also recommended that if the project is approved, the Township Committee should consider an ordinance to prohibit parking on Pearce Road.

Nassar downplayed the number of spaces that would be needed. He said the church’s Sunday services are expected to attract 50 to 60 churchgoers in the summer and 100 to 120 in the winter. In addition, there would be three weekly services with 10 to 15 attendees.

Board member Charles Cain asked why the church had to be built so close to Wrangleboro Road.

“Why was there no effort to obscure it, to set it back to retain the nature of the area?” he asked.

“It’s a beautiful building,” Nassar said. “We want it to be seen.”

After some deliberations, Nassar agreed to move the entire site back 25 feet. However, that created concerns among the board’s professionals, as it meant a relocation of all of the components of the project. That led the board to postpone a decision and to hold another workshop meeting between the applicant’s and the board’s professionals before the Sept. 21 meeting.

“There are too many considerations you are neglecting,” Pearce Road resident Harry Rowlinson told board members during public comment. “The existing neighborhood is not set up for this. You are putting too many people in jeopardy.”

Rowlinson added he was concerned about water runoff and flooding in the area as well as the traffic the site would generate.

“I would never have purchased my property if I knew this would be there, too,” neighbor Diana Sinatra said. “This is where we live. This is important.”

“Traffic is horrendous on Wrangleboro Road,” said Denise Diana, who lives in the Hamilton Walk development on the other side of Wrangleboro. “If this goes through, I will move out of Hamilton Walk because it will destroy our neighborhood.”

Jennie McGarry, also a resident of Hamilton Walk, agreed. “With this extra traffic, I will never be able to get out of my development,” she said.

Board member Wayne Choyce said the church is a permitted use in the zone and if the applicant complies with the board’s requirements, they have the right to build.

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