Government

Plaza Files Lawsuit Appealing Site Plan Approval Of Mosque, Citing Conflicts Of Interest Of Board Members

5739bd208ff6f93bba43_ISBRTreesbyHouse.jpg
A sprawling home at 124 Church St. in the Liberty Corner section of Bernards Township is the location of a proposed 4,250-square-foot mosque to be built by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge. Credits: By Linda Sadlouskos
de8d6804d0b70bf4aeaa_BernardsPlanningBoard2017.jpg
Jeffrey Plaza, who later resigned prior to the approval of a settlement of the ISBR lawsuit, was chosen to continue serving as Planning Board chairman in January 2017. Credits: By Linda Sadlouskos
5739bd208ff6f93bba43_ISBRTreesbyHouse.jpg

BERNARDS, NJ - A former Planning Board member has filed a lawsuit in the Islamic mosque planning case.

Jeffrey Plaza, the former Planning Board chairman who is an attorney, filed the suit for himself on Oct. 5 in Somerset County in the Superior Court Law Division. Plaza voted against site plan approval in December 2015 and later resigned from the board in May 2017.

The lawsuit appeals the board’s August adoption of preliminary and final site plan approval of the mosque, following a federal court judgment, “due to actual and/or apparent conflicts of interest on a majority of the board members who voted in favor…”

Sign Up for E-News

The board’s granting of the planning approval was compromised because board members should have been prohibited by law to vote in the matter, the suit maintains.

Plaza’s suit asks the court to reverse the Planning Board’s approval, declare the resolution illegal and null and void, and order new planning hearings on a new site plan application without participation of board members Plaza claims were “conflicted.”

The two defendants, the Bernards Township Planning Board and the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, would be expected to file an answer within 35 days of filing.

The Planning Board on Aug. 22 approved the final memorialization of a legal settlement of a long-standing dispute over the building of a mosque in the Liberty Corner area of the township. The board unanimously approved a resolution memorializing its Aug. 8 approval of a revised site plan for the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge to demolish an existing structure and build a 4,252-square-foot worship center for a maximum of 150 persons on 4.09 acres in a residential area at 124 Church St.

Plaza, who had just been reappointed as Planning Board chairman in January 2017, resigned from the board effective May 18, prior to a vote on the mosque settlement. Two other board members, Paula Axt and Leon Harris, also resigned on that date, township officials said. The terms of the settlement, approved by a majority of Township Committee and Planning Board members, minus the three who had resigned, was publicly released on May 30.

The Islamic Society initially applied for site plan approval in April 2012. The Planning Board held 39 hearings on the application, which was denied by the Planning Board in December 2015. In March 2016 the ISBR filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, and the federal Department of Justice intervened in November 2016. A settlement with the DOJ was reached in late May.

As part of the settlement, the township was directed to pay a total of $3.25 million in damages and legal fees to the ISBR.

The suit notes the settlement agreement included a general release from legal liability to the Township Committee and Planning Board as municipal entities and all the members individually. Plaza’s suit claims that Mayor Carolyn Gaziano, Kathleen Pedici, Township Committeeman James Baldassare and Scott Ross were conflicted board members because “each had an impermissible conflict of interest by virtue of their anticipated receipt of the release of any and all claims against them individually” only if they voted for the settlement site plan and accompanying documents. They all voted for the settlement memorialization Aug. 22.

The action violated the state ethics and municipal land use laws, the suit claims, because each had a personal interest.

As part of the legal settlement, the ISBR agreed to remove 31 parking spaces on the eastern side of the lot and move a proposed detention basin out of a designated buffer area. The agreement reduces the amount of parking to 50 paved slots and an overflow lot for 14 cars. The location of a 7,500-square-foot detention basin was one of the factors cited in the board’s initial denial.

The board also had concerns that the internal traffic flow on the site could create an unsafe condition for drop-off and pickup of children during Sunday school, and that fire trucks might be unable to maneuver easily due to the configuration of the parking stalls.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

Sign Up for E-News

Basking Ridge

Bedminster Woman Dies From Injuries After Being Struck by Car at Bridgewater Mall Parking Lot

July 12, 2018

BRIDGEWATER, NJ - A Bedminster woman has died from her injuries after being struck by a car in the parking lot of the Bridgewater Commons Mall on Monday.

Marion Kelley, 62, was struck by a vehicle while walking in Lot 4 near the Macy's merchandise pick up area at around 3:20 p.m. Monday.

The 2017 Mazda was driven by Chinmayi Parikh, 33, of Piscataway.

The crash is still being ...

Upcoming Events

Sat, July 21, 9:00 AM

The Wayrick Gallery, Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: NJ Audubon Photography Instructors’ ...

Arts & Entertainment Green

Sun, July 22, 9:00 AM

The Wayrick Gallery, Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: NJ Audubon Photography Instructors’ ...

Arts & Entertainment Green

Basking Ridge Resident Cycles Toward $52 Million Goal in the 2018 Pan-Mass Challenge

July 19, 2018

Local man will ride to fundraise for live-saving cancer research and patient care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

NEEDHAM, MA – On Aug. 4 and 5, Jim Morris of Basking Ridge will cycle up to 192 miles in the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) with the goal of topping last year’s record-breaking gift and raising $52 million for critical cancer research and patient care at ...

Avoiding 10% Tax Penalty

Do you want access to money from your retirement accounts but aren't sure of the real costs involved?

Most retirement accounts have a set age requirement you must reach before making penalty-free income distributions, which is usually 59.5 but can sometimes be as early as age 50. If you decide to access your accounts earlier, you could face penalties ranging from 10%-25%, which is not ...