BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ - Planning Board members nudged ahead the process Tuesday night (Aug. 22) in the legal settlement of a long-standing dispute over the building of a mosque on Church Street.
The Planning Board unanimously approved a resolution memorializing its Aug. 8 approval of a revised site plan for the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge to build a 4,252-square-foot worship center on 4.09 acres in a residential area at 124 Church St.
The board on Tuesday also passed a resolution to advise the Township Committee that a proposed land use ordinance amendment to reduce the minimum lot area of any proposed house of worship to four acres, down from its present six-acre minimum, “is not inconsistent” with the township’s master plan, according to Township Planner David Schley.
The Township Committee has introduced an ordinance amending the land-use code.
The Islamic Society initially applied for site plan approval in April 2012 and was denied by the Planning Board in December 2015. In March 2016 the ISBR filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, and a settlement was reached this May.
As part of the settlement, the township was directed to pay a total of $3.25 million in damages and legal fees to the ISBR.
Before construction can begin, the ISBR needs further approvals from the Somerset County Planning Board and from Bernards Township Sewerage Authority.
As part of the legal settlement, the ISBR agreed to remove 31 parking spaces on the eastern side of the lot and move a proposed detention basin out of a designated buffer area. The agreement reduces the amount of parking to 50 paved slots and an overflow lot for 14 cars. The location of a 7,500-square-foot detention basin was one of the factors cited in the board’s initial denial.
The board also had concerns that the internal traffic flow on the site could create an unsafe condition for drop-off and pickup of children during Sunday school, and that fire trucks might be unable to maneuver easily due to the configuration of the parking stalls.
The Planning Board also voted to cancel its Sept. 5 and 19 meetings, and will meet again on Oct. 3.