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Banned from Residential Streets, Mosque Applicant Considers New Options

Representatives from the alFalah Center disappointed by ordinance approval.

In a response to concerning houses of worship on major thoroughfares, representatives from the alFalah Center said they were disappointed by the decision and are looking into their options.

The alFalah Center sponsored an application that was initially introduced before the planning board Feb. 28 to build a mosque on the former Redwood Inn property on Mountain Top Road.

The board was initially planning to hear the application Jan. 24, but had to postpone it to Feb. 28 because the number of people attending the hearing was more than the municipal complex could handle. And before the application was officially heard, the planning board recommended, and the township council introduced, an ordinance to require houses of worship, country clubs and other similar businesses to build only on lots with access to major thoroughfares.

With the approval of the ordinance Monday, the mosque is no longer a permitted use on Mountain Top Road, and the applicant has the option of re-filing with the township’s zoning board.

But according to a Tuesday statement from the alFalah Center, this zoning change could block the Muslim community from building its Islamic Center anywhere in town because of limited real estate options in Bridgewater.

At Monday’s township council meeting, when the ordinance was set for public hearing, many Bridgewater residents spoke out about traffic concerns if the mosque were to be built on Mountain Top Road, and said they supported the ordinance wholeheartedly. They said they would support a mosque being built, just not in that location.

“We have been successful in maintaining the residential neighborhood, and we need to continue to protect it,” Bridgewater resident Frances Hozeny said at the meeting. “Adding capacity to the roads by widening them is bad, and a higher volume of traffic will bring safety concerns.”

The application for the mosque said the facility could accommodate up to 500 people for special services twice a year, and 250 people for non-event worship attendance on Friday afternoons.

Councilman Dan Hayes said at the meeting that this ordinance was about a zoning change, not the mosque itself.

“What is before us is a request for more comprehensive planning, and it looks at more uses than just houses of worship,” he said. “I believe we must plan for safe placement of these businesses and a safe future.”

Representatives from the alFalah Center said in the statement that the ordinance was proposed in response to the application, which is now invalid because it is no longer a permitted use on Mountain Top Road.

At Monday’s meeting, the statement contends, representatives from civil rights groups, Jewish and Christian leaders and members of interfaith organizations spoke against the ordinance and in favor of the Islamic Center.

“We have been so moved by the tremendous and widespread support we’ve received, from across the spectrum of faiths and from people of good conscience, for our right to worship and for our community as an integral part of Bridgewater,” the alFalah Center said in the statement.

“Although not surprised by the outcome of [Monday’s] vote, we were deeply disappointed to see the Bridgewater government choose to subject our Islamic Center to a different set of rules than every other existing house of worship.”

According to the statement, the ordinance exempts the street names of existing houses of worship in Bridgewater.

And many speaking in favor of the mosque at Monday’s meeting questioned whether this issue was really about religion, and asked why the introduction of the ordinance was timed in this manner.

“Where are the expert testimonies?” Basking Ridge resident Syed Siddiq asked. “Why are you rushing into this?”

According to the statement, the alFalah Center is currently investigating what it will choose to do next with the application.

“We are currently weighing our options and next steps, given the significant limitation that the town council has chosen to impose on us,” representatives said in the statement.

“As our nation is founded on principles of ‘liberty and justice for all,’ we are confident that these principles will prevail in protecting our rights to freely and peacefully practice our faith, as for every citizen.”

Ihate287 March 17, 2011 at 05:47 AM
This issue has nothing to do with religion - it has everything to do with the size of the proposed plan and the location. That plan would not work on the Redwood Inn site. Now, this ordinance does not say that they can't build that plan there, just that it needs to appear before the Board of Adjustment to prove why it should be allowed there. Yes, the ordinance was prompted by the application - that's clear - but it happens frequently in local government, issues come up before the town which then realizes that it needs an ordinance to be sure the issue is handled appropriately. And not just in Bridgewater - it happens everywhere. No town can anticipate every issue that might come up, so there are times when actions or proposals prompt passage of an ordinance. The bottom line here is that this has nothing to do with race or impinging a religion's ability to practice their religious beliefs. If the Catholic Church or some Methodists or Episcopals had decided to buy that property and attempt to build the exact same plan that is currently at issue, the town would have reacted the same way and taken the same action. That property, neighborhoods, and nearby access roads just are not right for that size of a building. I don't know what the real estate environment is like in town right now, but there is a lot available. I have no doubt that if a genuine search was undertaken, they'd find the perfect spot.

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