Government

Bernards Township Planning Board Denies Mosque Plan Before Packed Crowd of Basking Ridge Residents

f240fdd10cfb7845c287_MOSQUEfinalvote1.jpg
Residents completely filled the meeting room Tuesday night, Dec. 8, when the Bernards Planning Board voted to deny plans for a 4,250-square-foot mosque in Liberty Corner.  Credits: By Linda Sadlouskos
0dddfe83c6ea28ca9bb5_image.jpeg
Residents filled the Bernards Planning Board meeting on the night of Tuesday's vote of whether to approve a mosque in Liberty Corner, with many others unable to get into the room. Credits: By Linda Sadlouskos
f240fdd10cfb7845c287_MOSQUEfinalvote1.jpg

BASKING RIDGE, NJ - The Bernards Township Planning Board on Tuesday night denied approval of plans for a 4,250-square-foot mosque on a residential lot along Church Street in Liberty Corner Village, following three-and-a-half years of crowded public hearings.

Even as the meeting was about to begin at 7:30 p.m., there was a line of people out the front door of the town hall at 1 Collyer Lane. Township police required everyone entering the meeting room to first pass through a metal detector.

About two hours of board comments preceded the vote by board members. "The plans submitted do not include enough detail for final approval," said Board Member Kippy Piedici, a viewpoint echoed by many of her fellow board members.

Sign Up for E-News

The Planning Board members present at the meeting voted unanimously, 6-0, to deny final site plan approval for the project, first submitted for approval in 2012 by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge.

The board also voted, 4-2, against granting preliminary site plan approval, which would have given tentative approval with further details to be provided before the project could gain final acceptance.

ISBR president 'to review this with our legal team'

"The board has made it's decision -- we're going to review this with our legal team," ISBR president Ali Chaudry said following the vote to deny. He reserved the right for additional comment in the coming day or so.

The room quickly reached capacity, as did an alternate room in town hall set up for people to watch remotely. The board took a brief break before the discussion to allow even more residents to return home to watch the meeting online, or on the public access Cablevision station.

Residents applauded board member Barbara Kleinert's comments that the plan shouldn't even receive preliminary approval;  Kleinert said she was "not convinced that ordinances would be met" governing such issues as safety for a fire plan, creating a buffer with a neighboring property, stormwater drainage and an internal circulation plan. Concerns were expressed by other board members on those same points.

But the audience was fairly quiet following the final vote, filing out even as the board moved onto other matters.

"It's all good," said Loretta Quick, an immediate neighbor of the four-plus-acre site on which the mosque has been proposed at 124 Church St. She added she was glad that so many people had turned out for the meeting.

Township resident Lori Caratzola, who has attended meetings since conceptual plans were presented by the ISBR almost four years ago, said she was "pleasantly surprised" by the vote.

Caratzola said she was pleased that the four board members who denied preliminary approval "considered the zoning laws [and] clearly listened to citizens' input." She added she felt those board members did not "cower" to current political pressures.

Nearby resident Michael Barth said he had expected the vote to be closer.

Barth said he thought that the numerous conditions that board member Mary Pavlini said she would have required of the applicant for preliminary approval -- such as moving a detention basin out of a buffer zone with neighboring property, reducing maximum capacity from 142 to 112, as per an earlier version of the plan, and also reducing the number of parking spaces -- would have changed the entire plan.

Pavlini was the first board member to speak, and she had a long list of conditions and revisions she said she felt should be made to the plans, which already had been revised numerous times on the recommendations of board members and township professionals.

Pavlini said she felt that the maximum capacity for worshippers, which at one point had been set at 112 based on the number of prayer rugs that would fit in the prayer hall as designed, should be returned to that number. She said she would reduce the number of required parking spaces from 107 to 83.

She also pointed out that any plans approved by the board would be subject to approvals by the township sewerage commission, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Somerset County agencies.

Kleinert said she doesn't believe it is the board's responsibility to revise the applicant's plans. However, she -- and other board members -- agreed with Pavlini in citing as a key concern the width of aisles in parking areas, and the driveways that would surround the proposed building. 

Board members repeatedly pointed out that fire safety standards would set the width of the driveway at a minimum of 24 feet, and the area in the parking aisles at 26 feet. The plan fell short in meeting both those requirements, according to board members.

"I don't feel comfortable with conceptually redesigning this property," agreed board member Jodi Alper.

Alper and other board members criticized the internal traffic plan in the drawings. Alper said a drop-off plan would leave pedestrians exiting vehicles "smack in the middle of the traffic."

A proposed stormwater management plan, as well as the mosque planner's placement of a drainage basin in a buffer area that zoning laws would require to shield neighboring properties, also came in for disapproval in many of the board member's comments.

That detention basis would be almost wholly within the buffer zone, Board President Jeffrey Plaza said.

The purpose of a buffer is to screen and protect the neighboring property, Piedici said. 

The ISBR already has an area membership which has been meeting for religious services at the Bernards Township Community Center, it was pointed out during the hearings.

 

 

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Basking Ridge

Local Girls Scouts Invite Special Needs Children to 'Game Day' Next Weekend at YMCA

February 23, 2018

BERNARDS TWP., NJ - The Olympics aren't the only games to enjoy right about now. A group of local Girl Scouts working on their Silver Awards will be holding Game Day for special needs children ages 6 to 14 next Saturday, March 3, at the Somerset Hills YMCA in Basking Ridge.

Game activities as well as carnival-style games and prizes will be held in a "safe and ...

‘Reefer Madness’ Comes to Chatham Borough Council; Cannabis Advocates Make Pitch for Chatham Marijuana Shop

February 14, 2018

CHATHAM, NJ - A group of pro-cannabis activists came to the Borough of Chatham Council meeting on Monday night and used the public commentary portion of the meeting to ask the council to support a marijuana dispensary in town.

The advocates, who say they have attended more than 80 town meetings to inform about the benefits of medical cannabis, mentioned the 1936 movie "Reefer ...

Pieces of Time: Applause Rings Out In Two Columbia Middle School Classrooms

February 23, 2018

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Thursday night, the mass murder of students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday, Feb. 14, seemed to be on everyone’s mind at the Board of Education meeting.

The board observed a moment of silence following the Pledge of Allegiance for the 17 people killed and 14 wounded in the shooting, as well as ...

Upcoming Events

Sat, February 24

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Volunteer Art Show!

Arts & Entertainment Green

Sat, February 24, 9:30 AM

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Nature-Infused Yoga Winter Series

Green Health & Wellness

Sat, February 24, 2:00 PM

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Give a Hoot! Owls of New Jersey.

Education Green

Somerset County High School Democrats to Participate in National March for Our Lives Against Gun Violence

February 23, 2018

BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The Somerset County High School Democrats will have members participating in the National School Walkout March 14 and the national March for Our Lives March 24 in Washington D.C., in support of the national movement generated by the survivors of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, according to a release.

The organization has called on county, state and federal ...

AtlantiCast

AtlantiCast: Episode 12

On this week’s episode of AtlantiCast, decade of excellence makes headlines, as Atlantic Health’s place on Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For List leads off the newest episode of AtlantiCast. Also on this week’s show, check out the newest “hybrid” operating room at Morristown Medical Center and find out how Atlantic Health is helping local ...