EDISON — The state Department of Environmental Protection has approved an amendment to the township’s Green Acres Recreation and Open Space Inventory (ROSI). The decision allows a landlocked developer to obtain an easement to build a driveway on a .10-acre portion of the 1,240-acre Dismal Swamp Conservation Area.
For 10 years, Delores Visco, owner of Inman Sports Center, has wanted to donate a three-acre property adjacent to the state-protected Dismal Swamp to two township congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Each numbering 90 members, the congregations have been crowding the 145-seat Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, forcing additional services in the small Metuchen hall, director Mitch Migdat said.
“We’re very pleased that we have the approval to go forward,” Migdat said. “We were anticipating that. It took awhile to get there, but we’re very happy to have it. It means a lot for us, as well as Mrs. Visco.”
Migdat said Visco and her fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses applied for an easement with the township seven years ago. A six-year battle with environmentalists seeking to preserve the Dismal Swamp stalled the project, he said.
Migdat said the congregations will present their proposal for an easement to the township planning board on Nov. 19. He said construction will begin as soon as possible on a 4,300-square-foot ranch-style church, a 70-space parking lot and the driveway that requires the easement through the Dismal Swamp.
“We had to take some internal moves, where friends went to different houses of worship so we wouldn’t overburden the one we were going to,” Migdat said. “That’s running at the max, and there’s nowhere else to go. We needed to build a new Kingdom Hall, so this is really great for the families who attend there.”
In the debate that often pitted environmental protection against religious freedom, environmentalists continually cited concerns about the impact the parking lot and driveway would have on an area prone to flooding and home to federal priority wetlands.