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Estimates for Mosque Worshippers Questioned By Public

Attorneys for both Bernards Planning Board and Islamic Society advise houses of worship are permitted in residential zone.

Members of the public and the tried on Tuesday to pin down Islamic Society President Ali Chaudry on the number of worshippers who ultimately would attend Friday services at a proposed mosque in Liberty Corner, a number that Chaudry repeatedly estimated at 150 even after about a decade of growth.

Upon questioning, Chaudry said that if the number grew larger, the proposed mosque at 124 Church St. could conceivably consider adding a second service for the mosque's the Friday afternoon worship, which he said is the most attended service in the week.

Chaudry also said that the proposed 4,200-square-foot new building is expected meet the projected needs of the mosque to serve Muslims who live and work within the Somerset Hills and adjoining areas, including suburban towns in Union County. Chaudry added the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge might "reassess" whether it would seek further capacity if the regular attendance ever exceeded that number.

Tuesday's hearing, close to three hours long, drew more than 120 people as the board meeting began. Residents questioned Chaudry, the evening's witness, on everything from whether women or children would be included in daily worship services, scheduled at multiple points during the day, but lightly attended except for the main Friday service, Chaudry said, to how he came up with a figure of 150 for allowable capaity in the prayer room of the proposed new building. He said that the project's architect and engineer had been asked to design a prayer room with that capacity.

Rob Simon, an attorney for a residents' group, asked whether the planned 50 parking spaces on the property, about four acres, would be sufficient for 150 worshippers if most of those attending would likely be men who might be driving to the site on their own.

Chaudry said some of those attending could be expected to carpool — and that the 50 parking spaces would meet zoning requirements for proposed attendance.

The application before the planning board calls for the demolition of an existing home on the lot near the corner with Somerville Road. That structure would be replaced with a building that Chaudry said will be designed by local architect Dan Lincoln to fit in with the style of historic Liberty Corner Village.

Either Lincoln or the project's engineer, Adnan Kahn, could testify before the Planning Board at the next scheduled hearing at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 16, said attorney Vincent Bisogno, who represents the Islamic Society.

During Tuesday's public session — a continuation — Bisogno reminded the public that a house of worship is permitted within a residential zone, according to municipal zoning ordinances already approved by the Township Committee. Bisogno said the mosque should be treated the same as if it were any other house of worship within the township, including the nearby

The Planning Board's own attorney, Stuart Koenig, said that the board must approve the application if it is determined to be in compliance with local zoning ordinances. That would be the case even if the proposed use might not be consistent with the municipal Master Plan, which calls for the preservation of the historic village, he said.

"If they are in compliance with the zoning ordinance, but not the Master Plan, [the application] would be approved," Koenig said. He said the board would not legally be permitted to deny such an application on the basis of such concerns as traffic that might be generated by the mosque.

However, Koenig added that the planners could place some reasonable conditions on the proposal.

Following a discussion about whether the mosque, if it is built, might in the future arrange for off-site parking, Bisogno said he would later consult with his client about whether the mosque might limit such parking. He initially noted that the Presbyterian Church on Sunday has congregants parking at a number of nearby commercial lots.

Ultimately, Bisogno said, "The size of the congregation is not relevant. We want people to come to us."

But Chaudry testified that he expects that growth within the Islamic Society's membership and attendance for workship services — now held at the township's community center — would be limited for a number of reasons. For example, he said that there are 10 other Islamic centers also existing within a 25-mile radius of the proposed new location, including multiple locations in Somerset County and three in Plainfield alone in Union County.

Population within Basking Ridge is stabilized since most of the township already is "built out," he said.

Nevertheless, Board Member Ann Parsekian said that the ethnic and religious backgrounds of those within the Somerset Hills could continue to be transformed in years to come.

At the beginning of the meeting, Chaudry had said that the number of Somerset County residents identified as being "adherents" to Islam had grown from 1,891 in the 2000 census to almost 3,300 in the 2010 census.

During a break, Chaudry said the growth in the Muslim population was the reason that the need had developed for a place for those residents to worship close to their homes or jobs. He said that currently the center has about 55 members, and 65 worshippers at Friday services at the community center. He said some of those attending services are from nearby companies, including Verizon Wireless in Basking Ridge.

"This is happening everywhere," he said. "The number of mosques are growing." Islamic services are being held within rented facilities elsewhere in Somerset County, including Somerville, Hillsborough and Bridgewater, he said.

Others, however, said that they believe a Basking Ridge mosque would draw greater numbers if that center actually has its own building.

Meanwhile, resident Tom DeFeo was among those who said that continuing services at the center, which also has a Sunday school for about 25 children, accoridng to Chaudry, would create more traffic on what already is a busy street.

DeFeo expressed scepticism that carpooling would have a significant impact on the number of cars generated by the proposed mosque, particularly on Friday afternoons. "It's the nature of people in this area — we don't carpool," he said.

During the break, neighbor Paul Zubulake said he feels Chaudry already had damaged his credibility by making such claims as testifying before the board in would renovate the existing home on the property. The society already owns the property.

"It's a horrible location," he said. He added that he already has had five cars pull into his driveway, asking for directions to the mosque even before it is built. He said a mosque definitely would impact local traffic, and Church Street already has a problem with speeding vehicles.

God bless America September 12, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Jawce: the reaction by those people is not right and not acceptable, and not encouraged by any religion. All Mosques, churches and temples and the world do not worth killing ONE human being. Many believers (as for me) will NOT kill a cat to defend Prophet Mohammed or to defend Moses or Jesus. You said that Jesus can defend himself, that’s why he did not even try to kill or hurt people tried to hurt and kill him many times! Same for Mohammed he did not kill or hurt anyone for what he believes in, even after Mecca got into Islam people there expected he would kill them in return for what they did, but he did not kill anyone but forgive them! That being said: that forgiveness is required by all people, that what we should have but it does not justify we insult each and insult our prophets, and mimic our examples and leaders. That would not take us anywhere but to conflicts. I expect tolerance and forgiveness for all people as example from Buddhists that does not justify I can make fun of Buddha!
God bless America September 12, 2012 at 01:40 PM
I was in a Muslim country when the movie passion of Christ was in theaters, so some people opposed that movie! I did not know are they Christians or Muslims, but when I asked and read, they were both! And their point was not the material or if the movie talks good or bad about Jesus, but the idea is not accepted to bring an actor and make him acting he is the Christ! That is the part that is not acceptable in that part of the world it is a respect for Jesus, you cannot even put a normal human being pretending Jesus!
God bless America September 12, 2012 at 01:43 PM
LC: as I said nothing justify hurting a cat! I am so sad for the people lost today God have mercy on them not sure who did it but whoever did it is mistaken and should be punished. I cannot comment on the movie if it is good or bad, after I watch I can do so. I said a bad movie about Islam as I read on BBC.
R&A April 26, 2013 at 12:01 PM
Let's not be naive. Islam is being called into question on these matters for good reason. There is nothing bigoted or prejudiced about asking how a rapidly growing community of Muslims in Somerset County does not represent a threat of opening doors for extreme Islamic radicals or becoming that way itself. What happens if the mosque gets vandalized or someone ignorantly defames Allah or burns a Quran, will there be a holy war here in Liberty Corner? We live in a time where radical Islam is on the rise as fast a rate or faster than moderate Islam. Don't be naive just so you are not called an "Islamaphobe" or considered backwards. Do the research. See: http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/pages/americanattacks.htm
Lawyer1 April 26, 2013 at 12:48 PM
Bigotry has nothing to do with it .....IMO. Facts are these peoples are being financed by Saudis and this movement is being conducted across the country not just here in LC or Bridgewater. IMO....it's an attempt to use our own laws to undermine our way of life here....it's obvious. The Saudi'd financed 911 and this IMO is their Phase 2.....we're just foolish enough to permit this type of infiltration to happen right before our eyes. Bridgewater already has 2 Mosques within a few blocks of each other with another proposed in a secluded area on the mountain.....IMO.....spreading much like ants..

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