BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ _ The return of an expert witness for a citzens group objecting to plans for a 4,250-square-foot mosque in Liberty Corner Village provided an opportunity for neighbors to continue their questions about how the proposal would affect the residential neighborhood on Church Street, approximately across from the Liberty Corner Firehouse.

At last week's township Planning Board meeting, Lorrie Quick, a next-door neighbor, accompanied her questioning of professional planner Peter Steck with pictures of large trees, about 22 to 24 inches in diameter, that she said are slated for removal in the plans.

Steck testified in response to her question that he "finds it disturbing and improper that so much [existing foliage] is to be removed from the buffer area" that separates the lot that house the mosque from a neighboring home.

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July 24 is the next scheduled hearing before the board on the plans by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge to tear down an existing house at 124 Church St. and replace it with a house of worship that the ISBR's architect said would fit in with the historic character of Liberty Corner. Zoning that permitted houses of worship in residential areas was in place at the time the application was filed more than two years ago.

At the July 8 hearing, Quick also displayed a photo that she said shows how the headlights of vehicles driven by worshippers leading from the proposed mosque would shine directly upon a resident across the street.

Quick quoted an existing Bernards Township ordinance which states that no property being used for any reason "shall produce a strong dazzling light or glare beyond its lot lines." 

However, an attorney for the ISBR, Robert Raymar, objected that Steck could not comment because he was not familiar with the particular situation. Planning Board Chairman Jeffrey Plaza advised Quick she could choose to testify later about the ordinance when the public is permitted to offer direct commentary about the proposal.

ISBR President Ali Chaudry declined to confirm or comment upon the trees that would be removed under the plan before the Planning Board.

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

However, asked to comment on the lighting plan as discussed at a previous hearing, Chaudry said, "We have done everything we are expected to do...We definitely have gone far and beyond."

Adnan Khan, a professional engineer hired by the ISBR as an expert witness, was due to return before the Planning Board on July 8 to further discuss the plan. However, due to the public's lengthy questioning of Steck _ interrupted by a brief power outage that followed high winds _ Khan's appearance has been rescheduled for the July 24 meeting. Planning Board meetings begin at 7:30 p.m., and are held at the township municipal building at 1 Collyer Lane.

Earlier in June, Steck, also said that a planned extension of the driveway would be within what he contends is supposed to be a protected buffer zone with the neighboring property.

Resident Cody Smith, who said he is from the Far Hills section of Bernards Township, raised the issue with Steck about the extent to which the ISBR's mosque plans for an expanded driveway would cross the buffer area with the neighboring property line. Smiath also asked whether a local Planning Board is required to accept Somerset County's approval of the location of the driveway exit onto Church Street, which is a county road.
The Planning Board's attorney, Jonathan Drill, advised that the board will need to make a determination of whether to agree with Steck's contention that the ISBR must apply for special permission, through a zoning variance, to place the proposed driveway and a drainage detention basin in the property buffer zone. If the board does decide to require the mosque planners to ask for a variance, then Drill said he does not believe the board's hands are tied by the county's approval for the current plans for the driveway's opening onto Church Street.
If the board agrees with its own planner, David Schley, that the driveway and drainage basin can be placed in a buffer area, the question of whether the township needs to abide by the county's approval "doesn't matter," Drill said.