Fire officials’ worries about mosque must be ignored, atty says
Township lawyer: Fire officials’ traffic worries must be ignored
Feb. 6, 2014 |
Sergio Bichao | @sbichao
BERNARDS [NJ] – A nearly three-year effort by a Somerset County Muslim group to build a mosque in the historic Liberty Corner [in your eye, infidel!] neighborhood of this township will continue well into the spring as the township Planning Board continues to hear testimony on the application.
The proposal by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, which purchased the 4.3-acre property at 124 Church St. in late 2011 for $750,000, is one of two mosques proposed in Somerset County. The other, a plan by the AlFalah Center to convert the former Redwood Inn in Bridgewater into a house of worship [what a lonnnng stretch of reality that is], is being heard by that township’s planning board after a federal judge in September ordered a new hearing. The proposal is [the] subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit filed after Bridgewater in 2011 changed a zoning ordinance affecting the application.
As in Bridgewater, the proposed Bernards mosque also is facing community opposition.
Opponents faced a setback Tuesday when the Planning Board’s attorney urged the panel to reject fire officials’ concerns about traffic safety that the house of worship would create.
In memos last week to the Planning Board, Township Fire Official Janet Lake and volunteer Liberty Corner Fire Chief Peter Aprahamian said they feared that the additional traffic caused by the mosque, including “stacking” of vehicles caused by mosque visitors waiting to turn left into the property, could hinder the fire company’s ability to respond to emergencies.
To audible groans from opponents of the mosque, Planning Board attorney Jonathan Drill urged the board not to consider the fire officials’ concerns [well, of course, fire departments have historically just been pesky community pains in the neck, right? Not nearly as important to the public as mosques! Has Drill been bought or has he reverted to Islam?] because they dealt with off-site traffic problems. Citing case law spanning more than 40 years, Drill said such an issue only can be considered by the Zoning Board. Because a house of worship is considered a permitted use in this neighborhood, the Planning Board cannot delve into neighborhood traffic problems. [And of course no mosque leadership would think to go where it wouldn’t cause a problem.]
“It’s illegal; you can’t do it,” Drill repeated, after testy exchanges between him, and mosque attorney Robert Raymar, and Bernards Township Citizens for Responsible Development attorney Robert Simon.
The proposed mosque would have a maximum occupancy of 142 people and 107 parking spaces. The board scheduled hearings on the matter for 7:30 p.m., March 4 and April 24, when Simon is expected to present opponents’ case. [One assumes he’ll have the Zoning Board in hand.]