An Islamic community in New Jersey has filed a federal lawsuit against Bernards Township, the township committee and its planning board, after 4 years of failing to get approval for a new mosque in the quiet residential Christian community of Basking Ridge.
NJ.com “What should have been a simple Board approval for a permitted use devolved into a Kafkaesque process that spanned an unprecedented four years and included 39 public hearings,” the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Newark, says.
The suit was filed by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and its president, Mohammad Ali Chaudry, against the township and 15 individuals on the township committee and planning board. Chaudry is a former mayor, member of the committee and board of education member, the suit says.
Mayor Carol Bianchi did issue a statement: “Bernards Township is an inclusive and warm community. The allegations in the lawsuit do not represent our community. It is not unusual for an applicant to appeal a denial, and it is their right. The Planning Board made its decision and now the court will decide whether to uphold that decision. We look forward to a satisfactory resolution of this matter.”
The lawsuit comes about three months after planners unanimously rejected the society’s application to build a mosque on a 4.3-acre site on Church Street. Planners said the application was based on a “lack of details” regarding parking, traffic safety and buffer zones bordering the site’s residential neighbords.
But the lawsuit says the board’s rejection was more than that — it was the culmination of an “ugly spectacle” of anti-Islamic attitudes in the community. Dhimmi State Senator Stephen Sweeney and Mayor Davis blasted the hatred towards the Islamic community.
Planners frequently agreed with “one unreasonable and picayune land use objection after another” raised by opponents, even though a house of worship is a permitted use on the site, the lawsuit says.
Bernards Township We are concerned about the impact of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge’s (ISBR) development proposal to convert a current residential property to effectively commercial use by building a nearly 4,500 square foot Mosque complete with a 50 space parking lot on Church Street in Liberty Corner. We currently have limited information about the proposed development and our concerns may evolve as we learn more. Based on the information released to date by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and the news media, our concerns include the following:
public safety and traffic congestion at the accident-prone intersection of Somerville Rd/ Church Street and the surrounding busy intersections
the proximity of the development to the Liberty Corner Firehouse
the outsized scale of the proposed project
the proposed hours of use, which include activities at least 5-7 days a week
proposed lighting for the structure and parking lot
potential wetlands and environmental issues
the inevitability of future growth, given statements by ISBR representatives that the facility will be adequate for only 10 years
The society filed its application for preliminary and final site plan approval for a 4,252-square-foot mosque in April of 2012, the suit says.
What followed was “pronounced hostility” from the community and objections manufactured by the planning board, it says. Residents said they feared the mosque could host potential terrorists and warned that Islamic law must be opposed, the suit says.
Additionally, a citizens group formed expressly to oppose the mosque lobbied throughout the township, it says. After the society filed its application, the township committee amended the zoning ordinance to make new houses of worship difficult, if not impossible, to build, the suit says.