BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Omar Mohammedi, a board member with the Al Falah Center, said that although they wanted to make the Redwood Inn property work for building the first mosque in Bridgewater Township, members of the center are fine with a settlement reached with Bridgewater Township to instead build a mosque on a property on Route 202/206.
A settlement was reached between the two entities, and approved by the Bridgewater Township Council Monday, to allow the Al Falah Center to build a mosque on this new property, while the township will take control of the Redwood Inn property. Bridgewater will purchase a 15-acre property on Route 202/206 for a total of $2.75 million, with 5 acres to be used for open space, and 10.75 acres to be part of a land swap with Al Falah for the building of a mosque.
The exchange of property will occur after the Al Falah Center has obtained all approvals necessary to construct a mosque on the Route 202/206 property. According to a release from the Al Falah Center, the settlement provides that if approvals are not obtained, the preliminary injunction will be made permanent so that the Al Falah Center can pursue the construction of a mosque at the Redwood Inn property without reference to an ordinance approved in 2011 not allowing religious institutions to be build on residential roads.
In addition, as per the settlement, Al Falah has agreed to drop any claims for alleged damages, costs and attorney fees, in exchange for a payment of $5 million from the township insurers. The money can be used to help finance construction of the mosque.
And hearings for the construction of a mosque on the Redwood Inn property will be suspended.
"We were hoping to get something going on the Redwood Inn property," Mohammedi said. "But we are OK with this new property. This serves our purpose."
The settlement stems from a lawsuit filed by the Al Falah Center in 2011 in the midst of an application the center had with the planning board for a mosque on Mountain Top Road. The township approved an ordinance while the application was in front of the planning board that said houses of worship would not be allowed on designated residential and other roads, including Mountain Top Road, and so the application was sent to the zoning board with a variance required.
According to a release from the Al Falah Center, the center sued the township and alleged violations of constitutional and statutory rights, while also alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects religious institutions against discrimination and unlawful burdens on religious worship.
In September 2013, the federal courts ruled that the planning board was required to continue hearing the application for the mosque, and disregard the new ordinance. Hearings had been held since October 2013.
"We want to have a new chapter and move on with our lives," Mohammedi said.
Mohammedi said the building on Route 202/206 could prove to be easier for people driving to the mosque because of its access to multiple highways in the area.
Mohammedi said the center will move forward with putting together its new application for the mosque on Route 202/206, which will be submitted sometime around January or February.
"We have to make a complete new application," he said.
At this point, Mohammedi said, they are happy with the terms of the settlement and ready to move forward.
"We have suffered for four years, and we are really pleased and happy that we are moving to a new chapter," he said. "This will be great all around, and we hope this will speak volumes for the diversity in Bridgewater Township."
Peter Zimroth, attorney for the Al Falah Center, agreed that the settlement is satisfactory.
"My clients are very pleased with this settlement," he said. "Their goal has been to establish a mosque in Bridgewater. This settlement provides them with a property that can accommodate their religious needs and also a substantial payment that can be used to finance construction."