Law & Justice

Bernards Planning Board Set to Reorganize; Meet With Twp. Committee on Mosque Lawsuit, on Tuesday Night

Jeffrey Plaza, second from left, was chairman of the Bernards Township Planning Board for 2016. Credits: By Linda Sadlouskos

BERNARDS TWP., NJ - The two continuing lawsuits against Bernards Township alleging that mosque plans in Liberty Corner were turned down because of religious discrimination will bring together the two official bodies most concerned with the legal aspects of the case this week - the Bernards Township Committee and the Planning Board as well.

Planning Board reorganization set for Tuesday

Preceding the closed door legal session scheduled for 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday, the Planning Board alone will hold for its annual reorganization meeting, starting at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall at 1 Collyer Lane in Basking Ridge. 

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Members of the Planning Board who are new or who are being reappointed - including this year's Mayor, Carolyn Gaziano, who was not on the board recently but served in previous years, and Township Committeeman John Malay, who has been sitting on the board as the committee's representative, will take oaths of office in the reorganization section of the meeting.

The board's chairman for 2016, Jeffrey Plaza, is among the Planning Board members scheduled to be reappointed, with his term due to continue through Dec. 31, 2020.

Planning Board Chair and Vice Chair to be chosen

Following the oaths of office, the Planning Board's members will nominate and vote on the appointment of board member's as chairperson and vice-chair for 2017. Board member Jodi Alper was last year's vice chair on the board. 

Board professionals, including the engineer, planner and secretary, are also on the agenda to be named for the upcoming year.

Insurance coverage for cases by ISBR and US Department of Justice

The Township Committee scheduled the joint meeting with the Planning Board, according to notices and the agenda, to discuss insurance coverage regarding the two cases filed against Bernards Township during 2016, following the Planning Board's rejection of plans for a 4,250-square-foot mosque in Liberty Corner in December 2015.

The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge first filed a federal case last March, and the U.S. Department of Justice filed a case based on similar allegations right before last Thanksgiving.

Then, on the last day of 2016, a federal judge ruled that the township Planning Board had acted improperly when it demanded a higher number of parking spaces for a proposed mosque in Liberty Corner than the number of parking spaces that would have been required for a church. Last year's Township Mayor, Carol Bianchi, said then that the township disagreed with the ruling on the parking requirements, which she said were based on estimates of actual cars to be expected, and that the ruling would be appealed at an appropriate time.

The attorney for the ISBR said the ruling upheld the religious organization's contention that the requirement for a "supersize" parking lot was unconstitutional. The requirement for a much larger parking lot then led to land use concerns voiced by officials and neighbors, the lawsuits contend.

Members of the Township Committee and the Planning Board are named in the legal accusations.

Millington Quarry redevelopment to be discussed

The discussion of whether to designate the Millington Quarry as an area in need of redevelopment, which could make the property eligible for state redevelopment assistance and also allow the township more input into planning the future use of the quarry, is also on Tuesday's agenda.

At a previous Planning Board, some members of the public, including former Planning Board member Ann Parsekian and former Township Mayor Bill Allen, urged township officials to hold the quarry owners to agreements previously made about rehabilitating the quarry land so it is again reusable, as well as addressing concerns about contaminated soil.

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