BERNARDS TWP., NJ - On the evening before a scheduled closed-door legal discussion at which the Township Committee and Planning Board will consider a settlement with the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and the federal Department of Justice, a crowd of residents urged township officials to stand fast by the Planning Board's decision to reject plans for a new mosque in Liberty Corner Village.
Mayor Carolyn Gaziano said following the meeting that township officials may or may not take action following Wednesday's discussion, and that it also is possible that future meetings may be scheduled.
"I don't think anyone here objects to a mosque in this town--it's the location," said Sue Patton, whose words were echoed by several of the dozen or so speakers at Tuesday's Township Committee meeting.
Patton pointed out that at least some of the members of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge have been worshipping for years in rented at the Bernards Township Community Center without being bothered.
Some residents, including Cody Smith, the first speaker, said they had counted the number of occupants in worshippers heading to the Community Center and noted they were overwhelmingly single occupants, who sometimes are arriving directly from their jobs for afternoon services.
The number of worshippers in vehicles traveling to services had become a key issue in the case, with a federal judge ruling last New Year's Eve that the township had acted unconstitutionally in asking for 107 parking spaces for a 4,250-square-foot mosque to serve about 140 t0 150 worshippers at 124 Church St. in Liberty Corner. A church with a similar membership would have been asked for about half of that parking requirement, according to the ruling.
Resident Frank Zhao said the township should provide evidence that most of the worshippers heading to the community service arrive alone, thus providing a basis for the greater parking requirement. "I think the Planning Board made the right decision," he added.
Smith said giving in to allowing the mosque to be built at that location will not only affect the quality of life in Liberty Corner, but also would endanger the bulk of the township, which is served by the Liberty Corner Firehouse. Critics of the project said vehicles entering and exiting the proposed mosque, almost directly across the street from the mosque, could impede the fire company's response time for fires and other emergencies. He added he believes a "reasonable person" would work with the township to relocate the proposed mosque to a better location with more land and nearer to a major highway.
Linda Waldruff, another resident, said that the ISBR is trying to "shoehorn" the public building on a 4.2 acre property without recognizing there are also other concerns wetlands on the property, traffic issues on Church Street, easements and other issues "on this little piece of property."
A special joint meeting of the Bernards Township Committee and the Bernards Township Planning Board has already been scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 10 in the Warren Craft meeting room at the township municipal building, 1 Collyer Lane, in Basking Ridge, according to the township clerk's office.
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.
Formal action may be taken that night
Formal action may be taken after returning to the Township Committee and board return to open session.