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Neighbors Push Back on Mosque Plan

Residents question noise and parking at first hearing.

The design of the mosque proposed to be built on the site of the former Redwood Inn includes a gold-painted dome and a 47.5-foot minaret. Credit: Rendering by Ralph Finelli
The design of the mosque proposed to be built on the site of the former Redwood Inn includes a gold-painted dome and a 47.5-foot minaret. Credit: Rendering by Ralph Finelli
The renewed application for a mosque on Mountain Top Road by the Al Falah Center began a new review at the Planning Board Tuesday night, with about 70 residents in attendance.

The application—little changed from the 2011 round that ended with the board's denial and a subsequent lawsuit that put the application back in front of the board. A district court judge ruled the board must rehear the application and render a decision without considering an ordinance limiting houses of worship to lots along major roadways.

The township is appealing the decision, but was required to hold the Planning Board hearings in the interim.

In her opening remarks, attorney Lloyd Tubman, partner with the Flemington law firm of Archer and Griener representing the Al Falah Center, said because it's been three years and several members of the board are new, she would begin the application process over.

"I am going to put on an entirely new case," Tubman said. 

Civil Engineer George Folk, of David Stire Associates, provided the first testimony, noting the plan calls for a reduction of paved parking area, and increases the distance between areas of the site that would be used and neighboring properties.

Folk also said the plan includes 167 parking spaces, based on the "maximum occupancy of 500 persons"—testimony that was later challenged by attorney Stephen Eisdorfer, of Hill, Wallack, representing the Running Brook Neighborhood Association. Eisdorfer questioned how Folk was able to calculate the maximum capacity for the mosque, which will not use seats or benches for services.

Eisdorfer noted the township's ordinance for calculating parking is based on measuring either the number of seats in the building or the length of benches—not people.

"So, you couldn't actually calculate it based on this ordinance," Eisdorfer said.

Architect Ralph Finelli explained how the actual maximum capacity of the mosque was determined, based on the area of the main prayer area, divided by the area of a prayer mat used during services, with allowances for exits and pathways.

"The occupancy of this building will be posted and limited to 437," he said.

Finelli also said the mosque would be built using much of the existing shell of the Redwood Inn, but would feature an overhang around the exterior featuring a row of ceramic tile, a dome painted gold and a minaret reaching 47.5 feet in height, which is a design feature and will not house speakers for calls to prayer.

"There is no plan to use (the minaret) for anything other than a visual icon—there is no sound, there's no broadcast, nothing but the visual connection to the original purpose of that building," Finelli said.

Another focus of residents was the plan for a daycare center, with up to 40 children possible. Residents questioned the noise the children would make when outside, and several asked about plans for expansion.

The hearing will be continued at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional High School auditorium.

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