BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Bernards Township Mayor Carolyn Gaziano said she is "optimistic" that this Friday the Township Committee might approve a settlement agreement with the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, as well as federal officials, in lawsuits alleging the township's rejection of plans for a mosque in Liberty Corner was based on religious discrimination.

The Township Committee is scheduled to hold a special meeting at 4:30 p.m. on Friday at the town hall at 1 Collyer Lane, Basking Ridge. The meeting is scheduled to take place in closed session for a discussion of legal issues.

Gaziano said she is not sure if the Township Committee would take a final vote in public on Friday.

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The pending cases against the township were filed in 2016 by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge in federal court, with a later case filed by the U.S. Department of Justice. 

The township's representatives have been meeting with the mosque representatives recently. "We have been working through all of the issues," Gaziano said on Wednesday night.

This past New Year's Eve, a federal judge ruled that the Bernards Township Planning Board acted improperly when it demanded a higher number of parking spaces for a proposed mosque in Liberty Corner than the number of parking spaces that would have been required for a church. 

Township officials have asserted that the Bernard Planning Board's rejection in late 2015 of a proposal to build a 4,250-square-foot mosque on Church Street was based on land use issues. Concerns ranged from the impact of the project on neighboring homes, to a safe firefighting plan for the property, its proximity to the Liberty Corner Firehouse, and more.

In turn, the federal lawsuits filed by the ISBR and the Department of Justice said that many of those same land use issues were created by the Planning Board's insistence on parking for up to 107 vehicles for a house of workship that would serve about 150 people.

The lawsuits asserted that the township's representatives asked the mosque for about double the amount of parking that would have been asked for a church, or other similar house of worship.

Early in the hearings--which lasted more than three years--the maximum parking requirement was increased because the board said that research indicated that the worshippers at a mosque would be more likely to arrive at services held during weekdays straight from their jobs, with only one or two occupants per vehicle.