BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater Township took the unusual step of seeking planning board approval to build seven homes on the Redwood Inn property it acquired as part of a 2015 legal settlement with Al Falah, which had planned to build a mosque on the site.

Bridgewater’s Planning Board approved the township’s plan unanimously Tuesday night.

“Our intent with this application is to maximize the profitability of the sale of these lots,” township solicitor Michael O’Grodnick explained to the board.

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It also allows the township to develop the property “on our terms,” said Deputy Township Administrator Wells Winegar after the meeting. “From a township perspective, we wanted conforming lots that fit the character of the neighborhood.”

The plans unveiled Tuesday by the township call for demolishing the former Redwood Inn building, tearing up the large parking lot and removing a number of trees on the interior of the property, while maintaining trees along the perimeter. Trees that are taken down will be replaced with new ones measuring up to 3 inches in diameter, and open space will be preserved through a conservation easement on the north east end of the property, said Michael Ford, an engineer with Van Cleef Engineering, which was hired by the township in 2017 to design the subdivision.

Access to the seven homes will be provided by a single, 400-foot-long cul-de-sac, tentatively named Redwood Inn Court, off Mountain Top Road.

Resident Steve Scansaroli, whose backyard abuts the project, had concerns about stormwater run-off, which he said is currently directed through his property through a pipe in his backyard.

Ford said roadside swales and a stormwater collection system would handle rainwater so it wouldn’t affect Scansaroli’s property. Lawns would replace nearly 3 acres of blacktop currently at the site, absorbing rainwater as well.

“The changes in the land cover result in a reduction in runoff,” said Ford.

The township acquired the land in 2015 as part of a legal settlement with Al Falah, which wanted to build a mosque on the site, an application that was subsequently denied. Al Falah alleged that zoning against the building of a religious structure was not instituted until after the application for the mosque had been submitted, and filed a lawsuit against the township.

As part of the agreement, the township purchased 15 acres on Route 202/206 between Harding and West Foothill roads for $2.75 million.

It then swapped that land with the Redwood Inn property so Al Falah could build its mosque on Route 202/206 after residents and town planners raised concerns about traffic and other issued with the Redwood Inn site.

With revenues diminishing from the impact of COVID-19, township officials decided it was time to sell the property.

"It has always been the intention of the township to recover the value of this property that was acquired as part of the settlement with the Al Falah litigation,” said Mayor Matthew Moench after the meeting.  “I can't speak to why the prior administration failed to move this project forward in a timely fashion, but our residents should not have to wait any longer to improve the condition on this blighted property and to recover our taxpayers' money."

Planning board members spoke favorably about the project prior to the vote.

"I think it's great application," said Al Fross, who has been on the planning board since the mosque was proposed. "I like this application a whole lot better than the mosque. I think it's a good application of that area."

“I think it does the neighborhood well and I'm happy to see it," added planning board member Maurizio Vescio.

Planning board member Rob Giurlando agreed.

“I’m sure everyone living up there will be excited to see it built,” he said.