BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The plan is to offer 170 parking spaces at the proposed Al Falah Center mosque on Mountain Top Road, 16 more than the required 154 for the number of people the building can accommodate, according to engineer Henry Ney.
Ney spoke about his study of the parking lot at Monday's planning board meeting that continued the hearing of a proposed mosque on the former Redwood Inn property.
The Al Falah Center put in an application for a mosque on the former site on Mountain Top Road. The planning board has been holding hearings since January, with testimony from applicant experts.
The planning board was ordered by the courts to hear the application while litigation continues concerning a lawsuit filed by the Al Falah Center in 2011 after the township approved an ordinance prohibiting houses of worship from residential areas, including Mountain Top Road. That ordinance, which was approved after the application had already been filed, would have required the application to be moved to the zoning board.
In his testimony, Ney said he chose four mosques to study in comparison with the Al Falah Center, based on a number of factors, most importantly that they don't use street parking.
"We looked at these mosques on a Friday afternoon, which is the peak period of parking for the mosque and carries the most traffic," he said.
A total of 170 spaces have been proposed for the property, although only 154 were found to be required.
"Based on the information heard at the last meeting, the adjacent streets do not seem capable of handling parking and traffic at the same time, so we anticipate there will not be an issue created by the facility," Ney said.
Ney said he did his calculations based on the number of prayer mats estimated in the building because the mosque does not have seats, which normally are used to help determine the number of parking spaces.
"My calculations are based on square footage of the prayer area," he said. "If we had 100 people, we would have 70 or so cars on the facility."
Stephen Eisdorfer, attorney for the Running Brook Homeowners Association, questioned why Ney did not use the township's ordinance that requires parking based on the number of seats in the building.
"Since there are no seats in a mosque, there is no way to calculate based on the number of seats," Ney said. "If it had seats, we could have done that calculation."
Council president Matthew Moench questioned the fact that the calculations for parking were not done based on expected attendance at the facility. Ney said he read what the applicant was projecting to help determine the counts.
Moench said he does not understand how the parking needed could be determined simply by looking at the size of the prayer size, divorced from other factors like other uses for the property.
"Take an office building that is occupied," Ney said. "You count square footage and parking spaces and generate the number. Sometimes there are only a few examples."
Other concerns from residents were based on the fact of when Ney's study was done. Resident Shiv Mallela questioned whether the study was done during Ramadan, which brings larger crowds to the mosque.
Ney said he did not.
"So what you observed would be a normal case," Mallela said.
Ney said that that is normal practice for this kind of study.
"When you look at shopping mall standards, you don't look at pre-Christmas, you look at normal times," he said. "We don't do parking for a house based on a 30-year parking demand. None of the parking standards published in the ordinance is done in the worst case, it's done for a normal day."
Resident Kelly Avenoso asked what would happen if more cars show up than the parking lot could handle.
But Ney said they did not look at overflow parking.
Previous testimony by traffic engineers has said that people will be turned away if the parking lot is full, and a second service could be instituted if necessary.
"This not only affects the parking question, but the traffic questions," Avenoso said. "When more cars show up and they can't fit in the parking lot, what is the standard regarding how parking occurs?"
Ney said the municipality has the power to prohibit parking on the streets, or create passes for residents to put on their cars so that outside vehicles would be towed or ticketed.
The hearing was continued to Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. in the courtroom of the municipal building.