Mosque Planners Face Questions on Lighting, Will Return Tuesday Before Planning Board

The president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, Ali Chaudry, (center, in dark suit in the audience) at a hearing on a proposal to build a mosque in Liberty Corner Village that is before the Bernards Township Planning Board. Credits: By Linda Sadlouskos

BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Ashok Wahi doesn't live right next door to the suburban-style home that the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge plans to demolish to make way for a smaller, brand-new mosque that the planners have testified will fit in with historic  Liberty Corner village.

Nevertheless, Wahi says headlights from vehicles and other lights at the proposed 4,250-square-foot mosque at 124 Church St. would have a huge impact on his home and others nearby. He questioned the ISBR's president and also the organization's professional engineer about the lighting plan at yet another lengthy Planning Board meeting on the mosque application that took place on June 25. 

Headlights from vehicles of those attending the mosque will shine directly on the second story of his home, glaring in bedrooms, including the room of his daughter, and, he said, creating a disturbance for his 92-year-old father-in-law. Even now, "You can see every car entering or leaving the driveway, summer or winter," Wahi told Ali Chaudry, ISBR president, at the meeting.

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Wahi said his home is separated from the ISBR's four-acre property by a vacant lot - but he said the owners of that lot also deserve not to have the lights shining on whatever home might be built at that location. The lights also will disturb two other neighbors' homes, he said.

Wahi later said that the problem of headlights of a lesser number of vehicles already entering the property is greater when leaves are down. The lighting created by what would be a public building, possibly with more than 100 parking spaces, illustrates one aspect of the inappropriateness of having a house of worship in a residential neighborhood, he said. However, municipal zoning at the time the application was filed, more than two years ago, permitted a house of workship in residential zones.

Meetings set up for Tuesday, July 8, and July 24

Chaudry, who is a former Bernards Township Committeeman, said the application was deemed to be complete - which set the clock ticking on the hearings - in May 2012. He said the ISBR voluntarily has granted numerous extensions to allow the hearings to continue.

"We have done everything we are expected to do," Chaudry said this week, a few days before the next scheduled hearing date on Tuesday, July 8. "We definitely have gone far and beyond."

Chaudry said he did not want to comment further on testimony given at the meeting, which will becone part of the official transcript on the hearing process.

Adnan Khan, a professional engineer hired by the ISBR as an expert witness, also faced questioning by Wahi on his testimony from an earlier date, when Wahi had not been given an opportunity to question the witnesses at the end of one of many lengthy hearings.

Chaudry said Khan is due to reappear before the Planning Board on July 8 to testify about the internal traffic circulation report for the property. Another Planning Board hearing on the ISBR application is scheduled for July 24, said Fran Florio, board secretary. Board meetings are set to begin at 7:30 p.m.

Following the last meeting, Wahi, himself an engineer, said he does not feel that the ISBR has created a lighting plan that provides adequate buffering for neighbors.

Another township resident who has regularly attended the hearings before the Planning Board, Lori Caratzola, said that lighting is one of the issues she said has not been adequately addressed for its impact on surrounding neighbors, particularly immediate neighbors.

Along with headlights, ambient lighting from the building and elsewhere on the property _ along with the sounds of cars turning on, the beep of keyless locks and other noises _ will affect those neighbors, she said.

Caratzola said that people who had moved into those homes had anticipated the relative quiet of living in a residential area.

Earlier in June, Peter Steck, a planner hired by a citizens group, said that a planned extension of the driveway would be within what is supposed to be a protected buffer zone with one of the next-door neighbors.

Caratzola countered testimony by the ISBR's attorney that other houses of worship in Bernards Township, including the Chabad Jewish Center, have driveways as close to neighboring properties. 

She said that Chabad, unlike the proposed mosque, is on a major road near a traffic light, near other commercial properties.

At the last meeting, Wahi also questioned Chaudry about whether Khan is a member of the ISBR, which already meets in rented space at the Bernards Township Community Center. He asked the ISBR president if Khan had ever made a donation to the religious organization.

Chaudry declined this week to add to his testimony at the meeting. That night, he said that Khan is not a member, but that he recalled that the engineer had attended a fundraiser. However, he said that he could not remember if Khan had made a donation at that event.



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