Law & Justice

Bernards Twp. Committee & Planning Board to Discuss Mosque Lawsuit at Special Meeting

Islamic Society of Basking Ridge attorney Robert Raymar discusses fire safety with Liberty Corner Fire Chief Peter Aprahamian at a 2015 Planning Board meeting. Credits: By Linda Sadlouskos

BERNARDS TWP., NJ - The Bernards Township Committee has rescheduled a previously canceled meeting to discuss lawsuits stemming from the township's rejection of plans to build a mosque in Liberty Corner, but this time is including the township Planning Board in scheduled closed-session discussions.

A special joint meeting of the Bernards Township Committee and the Bernards Township Planning Board has been scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. on May 10 in the Warren Craft meeting room at the township municipal building, 1 Collyer Lane, in Basking Ridge, the township clerk's office announced on Monday.

The Committee and Board will start the joint meeting in public session, but will  immediately adjourn to a closed executive session to discuss lawsuits filed by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and the federal Department of Justice against Bernards Township, the notice said. The township officials are also scheduled to discuss an arbitration case regarding QBE Specialty Insurance Company/Summit Risk Services, the notice said. 

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Formal action may be taken that night

Formal action may be taken after returning to the Township Committee and board return to open public session at the conclusion of the closed-doors executive session that night, the May 1 notice said.

A special April 21 afternoon meeting at which the Bernards Township Committee was to consider and possibly approve a legal settlement in federal cases stemming from the Planning Board's rejection of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge's plans for the mosque had been called off just a few hours before it was to be held.

Last week, Michael P. Turner, a public relations specialist hired by Bernards Township for representation in the case, issued a statement saying, "The special meeting of the Bernards Township Committee, scheduled for Friday, April 21 was postponed because there was not enough time to adequately notify the public as required by law. It is currently the intention of the Township Committee to reschedule this meeting in May.”  

Prior to the scheduled April 21 session, Bernards Township Mayor Carolyn Gaziano said she was "optimistic" that the Township Committee might approve a settlement agreement with the ISBR, as well as federal officials, in lawsuits alleging the township Planning Board's December 2015 rejection of plans for a mosque in Liberty Corner was based on religious discrimination.

The pending cases against the township were filed in 2016 by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge in federal court, with a later case filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The township's representatives have been meeting with the mosque representatives recently. "We have been working through all of the issues," Gaziano said on April 19.

This past New Year's Eve, a federal judge ruled that the Bernards Township Planning Board 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. 

Township officials have asserted that the Bernards Planning Board's rejection in late 2015 of a proposal to build a 4,250-square-foot mosque on Church Street was based on land use issues. The location of the property with a home that would be torn down if the house of worship is built is nearly directly across the street from the Liberty Corner firehouse.



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