Bernards Twp. Declines to Reach Settlement on Mosque Case at This Time; Crowd Voices Opinions to Officials [Update]

The meeting room at the town hall in Bernards Twp. was crowded with residents waiting to hear the outcome of settlement talks on the ISBR mosque litigation. Credits: By Linda Sadlouskos

BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Wednesday's closed-session discussion on a possible settlement with the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and the federal Department of Justice regarding the siting of a mosque in Liberty Corner Village led to an announcement that township officials were unable to reach an agreement, at least as of this time.

The Bernards Township Committee and township Planning Board, which met with several attorneys behind closed doors for about 90 minutes, was greeted by a crowd that filed in to fill the meeting room to hear the outcome of that discussion.

"We have not reached an agreement with either the ISBR and Mohammad Ali Chaudry or the DOJ at this time," Bernards Mayor Carolyn Gaziano said in a brief comment at the conclusion of the legal discussion.

Sign Up for E-News

Settlement negotiations ongoing

"Settlement negotiations are ongoing, so we will not be answering any questions," Gaziano added.

[Updated] Soon afterward, Michael Turner, spokesman for Bernards Township, issued a brief statement confirming that no action had been taken regarding the litigation.

The statement on behalf of the township added, "As elected leaders, our goal is to promote the quiet and peaceful use of property for all members of our community. Settlement, in our opinion and that of our legal counsel, represents the most effective path forward to mitigate the financial risk of protracted litigation as well as resolve the issue of the ISBR's proposed Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque in Liberty Corner.

Since the matter is not completely resolved, we must withhold any further comment."

No comment from attorney representing the ISBR

After being contacted for a comment on Thursday, Adeel A. Mangi, representing the ISBR, said in an email, "We will have no comment at this time."

Following the adjournment of the Planning Board, however, the Township Committee did open the floor to public comment and heard dozens of people speak for almost two hours.

Multiple residents speaking said they would support the location of a mosque in Basking Ridge, but said the Planning Board was correct in voting against the proposed location on a little more than four acres between two homes on Church Street in historic Liberty Corner.

Other major concerns during more than three years of Planning Board hearings, raised again on Wednesday night, included fears that traffic heading out of the mosque could impede the response time of the Liberty Corner firehouse across the street, and also would worsen an intersection at Somerville Road where many accidents have already occurred.

"No one objects to a mosque in this town; they object to the location," said Sue Patton. She said members of the ISBR should sit down with others in the township to find a better location.

Several members of the ISBR spoke, although they stressed they were speaking on their own behalf, rather than as representatives of the religious organization.

One speaker, Sinan Kutty, said there is no more idyllic of an American scene than being able to walk down the street in Liberty Corner and seeing a church, a school attended by local children and a mosque serving local worshippers. He said his own children attend Liberty Corner School.

"We hope the location works out somewhere," he said. He and other speakers said they don't think residents would see a large increase in traffic if the mosque were built, especially because the main activity at the house of worship would be 1 p.m. services on Fridays, and on Sundays. He said ISBR members have already been praying in the area without attracting attention.

[Update and correction: An earlier version of this report quoted Kutty as saying the ISBR members had been meeting for prayers on Church Street. On Saturday, Kutty said he meant the prayer meetings had been held at Dunham Park. He said he was unaware that the address for Dunham Park is at Liberty Corner and Somerville Roads, and not on Church Street, when he mentioned that location at the meeting.

The majority of speakers expressed confidence that the Planning Board's decisions were based on zoning issues rather than religious discrimination, as alleged in the lawsuits filed in 2016. On New Year's Eve in 2016, a federal judge ruled that the township could not require the mosque to provide at least double the number of parking spaces on the property than it would for a church. During the hearings, the Planning Board heard testimony that more worshippers at Friday services would be likely to arrive alone in a vehicle, heading to and from work, than would the average churchgoer attending Sunday services with an estimated three persons in each vehicle.

The judge said the decision to require extra parking created many of the other objections to the project, including complaints about adequate buffers with residential properties and other parking issues.

Other residents said on Wednesday that the mosque has yet to address the issue of traffic on Church Street, a county road.

Chaudry also declined to comment following the meeting, and the subsequent public comment period.


TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Basking Ridge

Whole Foods in Bridgewater to Officially Open Doors March 21

February 20, 2018

BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Whole Foods Market Bridgewater, the first Somerset County location for the retailer, will officially open its doors on Chimney Rock Road March 21.

According to a release from the company, the 49,000-square-foot store will open at 9 a.m., and there will be prize giveaways, special sales and product demonstrations and samples.

"We can't wait to serve Bridgewater 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 ...

Guest Column: The Great "Wait" of the College Process

February 16, 2018

For all the high school seniors and their parents, we are in the stressful "waiting period".  We've just finished or are finishing applications to all the schools we might possibly want to attend next year and now sit and wait our fate after the $60-$80 non-refundable application fees to at least 8-13 schools and staring at some pretty ridiculous tuition fees.

Early ...

Upcoming Events

Wed, February 21

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Volunteer Art Show!

Arts & Entertainment Green

Wed, February 21, 9:00 AM

The Center for Contemporary Art , Bedminster,

Dan Bischoff: Critic As Artist

Arts & Entertainment

Wed, February 21, 9:00 AM

The Center for Contemporary Art, Bedminster

Keepers of the Chroma: An Exhibition Regarding ...

Arts & Entertainment

Franklin: Sister2Sister Seeks Volunteers for 5K Run; Breast Cancer Health Summit and Screenings March 24

February 20, 2018

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, NJ – Sister2Sister, a non-profit organization that supports minority and underserved breast cancer survivors, is getting an early start on planning its 5K Breast Cancer Run & Walk For Life with an organizational meeting Thursday, Feb. 22.

Those interested are invited to the organization’s headquarters at 1201 Hamilton St., Somerset for the 7 p.m.


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 ...

AtlantiCast Medical Minute: Atlantic Orthopedic Institute’s Scoliosis and Spinal Deformity Center

On this episode of the AtlantiCast Medical Minute, we’ll take you inside the Atlantic Orthopedic Institute’s Scoliosis and Spinal Deformity Center, with the center’s director, Jason Lowenstein, MD.

Video Link:

AtlantiCast Episode 011

Breaking Atlantic Health System news on this week’s AtlantiCast! Plus, find out why Morristown Medical Center is one of the best hospitals in the nation when it comes to recovering from joint surgery, see the newest center for fighting brain cancer and an Atlantic Health System red-carpet premiere!