Jan 14 2013
You can dress it up to look like a private residence, but a mosque in the neighborhood depreciates home values because a significant number of people will not purchase a house that is near one.
My Central New Jersey The lawyer for a Somerset County Islamic organization believes that the township Planning Board is discriminating against his clients for wanting to build a mosque in the Liberty Corner section of Bernards.
When a local Islamic organization hired Bernardsville architect Daniel Lincoln to design a new mosque, he set out to create a building that would serve its purpose as a house of worship and fit into the colonial and bucolic character of this township’s Liberty Corner. He’s proud of the result. The 4,252-square-foot building with white siding and a gray roof could be mistaken for a large home. Remove the crescents, and the two 35-foot minarets could pass for chimneys.
But many of the people who would be neighbors of this mosque aren’t as appreciative. “When they look at this building, all they see are the letters M-O-S-Q-U-E,” said Lincoln, who also is president of the Historical Society of the Somerset Hills.
The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, which purchased the 4.3-acre property at 124 Church St. in late 2011 for $750,000, is not the first Muslim group to run into resistance trying to build a mosque.
In 2011, the Al Falah Center of Somerset County, bought the former Redwood Inn restaurant in Bridgewater to build its own mosque. As in Bernards, a mosque was a permitted use in that township’s land-use laws. But months later the Township Council changed its zoning laws in an effort to stymie the proposal. That case is now part of a continuing lawsuit in federal court.
The resistance the Muslim groups meet before local land-use boards is not new, nor is it just a local concern, several religious leaders said. “There is always resistance to any mosque. That’s why Muslim groups spend a lot of time when they look for a mosque to find a project that can’t be turned down based on the law,” said Yaser ElMenshawy, head of the Islamic Center of Hunterdon County in Flemington.
ElMenshawy said that there is usually less resistance in “more urban areas where there is lots of diversity,” such Jersey City, Paterson or Newark. (Heavily populated with Blacks, many of whom are Muslims living on welfare)
More than 3,200 Muslims lived in Somerset County in 2010, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives and the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. Ten years earlier, there were just less than 1,900. In Morris County, the number rose from 2,100 to about 4,500 in that same decade. (The majority imported since Obama took office)
There is no indication that the opposition to the mosque in Bernards is based on anti-Muslim bias or prejudice. (That only means they are getting good at disguising it) In fact, all the questioning by and comments from neighbors opposed to the project have focused on attendance estimates, parking, traffic and questions over historic districts.
In Bridgewater, too, opposition to the Al Falah Center proposal centered on traffic concerns for Mountain Top Road. But lawyers for the center said “anti-Muslim prejudice” that appeared on the internet belied the true intentions of opponents, which included the Somerset County Tea Party, a group that tried to link Al Falah to terrorism. new-jersey-angry-residents-want-to-stop-the-mosque
ElMenshawy said he doesn’t buy it when opponents claim their concern is parking or traffic. “There is no doubt it’s because it’s a mosque,” he said. “It’s part of the terrain nowadays.” (That’s right! Nobody wants to live near potential terrorists)
Khurrum Ali, civil rights director for the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, said there is little Muslim leaders can do about that.(HAH! So say Litigation jihadists from CAIR as they are preparing to file lawsuits if the project goes south) “We can try to educate those individuals that there is nothing to fear and we can try to educate them about Islam,” he said. (Oh here we go, CAIR is going to miseducate people with the whitewashed version of Islam)
As in the Bridgewater case, the Bernards mosque proposal also has attracted those who fear that house of worship for Muslims would attract terrorists. Local blogs and news websites also are rife with comments slamming Islam. The Sept. 6 comment from a user identified as “Jawce” is typical of other messages on the Basking Ridge Patch website: “When radical Islam realized they couldn’t win by turning planes into missiles, they are now choosing the way of INFILTRATING our country … you are really naive to think this is not their mission.”
One of the most vocal opponents of the Bernards project is Lori Caratzola, a Minuteman Court resident who lives nearly 2.3 miles away from the proposed mosque property. During the public portions of the Planning Board meetings, Caratzola keeps it technical, shooting off questions about attendance estimates and parking. But on the Internet, there is no question she dislikes Islam. (But if she used the truth about Islam as her reasons for rejecting the mosque, legitimate though it would be, she would be called a bigot for having views which are not politically correct. So people in her position are forced to find technical reasons. If it was the KKK, she could object because of their ideology, but because it is Islam, she cannot, even though their ideologies are quite similar)
On a profile she maintains at a social networking site called GlobalInfidel.tv, her only listed “friend” is Eric Allen Bell, a filmmaker who compared the prophet Muhammad to a rapist during an interview with Fox News last summer.
Caratzola is listed on the American Public Policy Alliance’s website as a New Jersey community leader for “American Laws for American Courts,” a public policy proposal designed to ban Sharia, or Islamic law, in the U.S. (And she should be applauded for her efforts here) The (terror-linked) Council on American-Islamic Relations calls campaigns against Sharia “a cover for anti-Muslim bias” and federal courts have struck down Sharia bans as unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, Caratzola, who could not be reached for comment last week, recently chided Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., on his Facebook page for being “weak” with “regard to the threat of Islam.” (It’s about time somebody called him out on this)
Caratzola is not a member of Bernards Township Citizens for Responsible Development, a nonprofit group of homeowners opposing the application. “We are all about making sure that the nature of the Liberty Corner community is preserved in adherence to the land-use policies,” he said, adding that the issue of religion is “completely irrelevant.” “Our aim is simply to preserve the quiet character of our residential neighborhoods and prevent the intrusion of intensive non-residential uses.”
Al Falah’s lawsuit claims Bridgewater violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The summary of the 2000 law notes that often in land-use cases involving minority houses of worship “discrimination lurks behind such vague if applicable reasons as traffic, aesthetics or ‘not consistent with the city’s land use plan.’ ” Al Falah proposed converting a former banquet hall into a 14,567 square-foot mosque on 7.64 acres. The existing 230-car parking lot would be reduced to accommodate just 169.
Within days of Al Falah’s application to the Planning Board in January 2011, officials began meeting behind closed doors to change the township’s zoning laws to only allow new religious buildings on major roadways. The ordinance was adopted weeks before a new state law would have blocked retroactive zoning changes.
The 2½ story Bernards mosque would replace an existing home of about the same size. The mosque would be 72 feet wide, while the existing home is 108 feet wide. Nearby homes are 73 to 100 feet wide, Lincoln, the architect, testified last week. The proposed mosque’s prayer hall would accommodate no more than 142 worshipers (for now).
During a hearing on the proposal Tuesday evening, mosque attorney Vincent T. Bisogno suggested that the Planning Board may be discriminating against his client after the board doubled the parking requirement for the proposal from 50 to 110. “I’m not seeing any unfairness or inequity,” Planning Board Chairwoman Carol Bianchi said. “We are just trying to get through the testimony to make a good decision.”
Islamic Society of Basking Ridge President Ali Chaudry, a former mayor of the township, declined to discuss the case. “We just want to get this through the Planning Board,” he said Tuesday after the hearing.