BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Testimony continued Monday on the proposed mosque on Mountain Top Road, with the focus on the landscaping proposed to shield the property from the surrounding homes.
The Al Falah Center has put in an application for a mosque on the former Redwood Inn site on Mountain Top Road. Since January, the planning board has been hearing continued testimony from applicant experts.
The planning board was ordered by the courts to hear the application while litigation continues concerning a lawsuit filed by the Al Falah Center in 2011 after the township approved an ordinance prohibiting houses of worship from residential areas, including Mountain Top Road. That ordinance, which was approved after the application had already been filed, would have required the application to be moved to the zoning board.
During Monday's hearing, landscape architect Brian Bosenberg said that in the construction, they will be removing 11 Evergreen trees and 20 desiduous trees, replacing them with 23 Evergreen trees and 20 desiduous trees.
In addition, Bosenberg said, they are proposing 153 new shrubs on the property, and an extra 177 to be placed on the property, but not on sidewalks where the ordinance requires them. Bosenberg said 319 shrubs are required around the perimeter of the property, where the sidewalk is.
"We are requesting a waiver for the locations of the shrubs, not the number of them," he said.
As for buffers, on the west side of the property that borders Mountain Top Road, there are more than 75 percent Evergreen trees, and they do plan to buffer the parking lot. In addition, Bosenberg said, they are planning to build a 6-foot-tall wooden fence stained a dark earthy color.
"And the eastern and southern portions will remain wooded, plus the fence," he said. "We are proposing a fence along the existing woodland."
"Instead of just putting up the fence, we will dye it an earth tone so it blends in to the trunks of the trees," he added.
Council president Matthew Moench said he might prefer to see dense plantings instead of the fence.
"The concern I have is that looking at dense plantings might be preferable to a giant fence," he said.
Bosenberg said they are also planning seven additional Evergreen trees at the right of way into the parking lot to prevent the headlights from shining at the homes when cars are pulling out of the lots.
Bosenberg said they will be happy to work with any of the residents in the area about those trees in the right of way.
Township engineer Robert Bogart said he is not satisfied by the proposal for the trees in the right of way, particularly with regard to maintenance of them.
"The trees may be planted in the right of way, but who takes care of them?" he asked. "In my mind, the best solution is to have the neighbors agree to have them planted on their properties."
A Mine Road resident, who said the parking lot is directly across from her property, said she does not want the driveway facing her home, and doesn't believe the seven trees will keep the headlights from shining into her home.
In addition, she said, she can imagine the Norway Spruce trees planned for that area will cause her to lose sunlight into her home because they grow so large, while also eliminating the breezes coming into her home.
"I am not pleased, I don't want it and no one has even spoken to me about it," she said.
Kristen Bobowicz, of Papen Road, said she is concerned the growing trees will make it difficult to see to make the left at Papen Road.
"Will these trees make it difficult to see?" she asked. "Can different trees go in to not block the site?"
Bosenberg said that could be done if the township wanted.
Resident Shiv Mallela said he is concerned about the fence, because it is planted near wetlands and trees cannot be substituted.
"If the neighbors around that property don't like to see the fence, there is nothing that can be done because of the wetlands," he said. "We have to live with it."
Bosenberg said that that is why they are proposing to stain the fence the color of trees, to blend in with the wood. He said all sides of the fence will be painted, 360 degrees around it.
Other residents questioned whether the applicant looked at other places of worship in the area to determine what kind of landscaping should be done. Bosenberg said it was all planned according to the township's ordinances, but that he would have designed it that way even without the ordinances.
George Folk, with David Stires Associates, also spoke about the engineering plans on the site, saying that changes included eliminating the center parking island to increase the separation between the parking lot and the nearby homes.
In addition, because of the development Folk said, there will be less runoff problems because of a decrease in impervious coverage on the property.
"Nonstructural stormwater management will reduce impervious coverage," he said. "No downstream areas will be subject to additional flooding."
Testimony will continue July 28 at 7 p.m. at the municipal building on Commons Way, when residents will have an opportunity to question Folk.