The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge says it should be held to the same standards as any other religious group looking to build a house of worship in town. But a memo from Bernards Township officials says that way of thinking is “misguided.”
NJ.com (h/t Bo Perrin) The Islamic Society hopes to build a 4,250-square-foot mosque in place of a 1950s-style ranch currently situated on a 4.3-acre property at 124 Church St.
As part of its plan, the society proposes building 50 parking spaces for the mosque, which its lawyer says is the adequate amount under the town ordinance specifying off-street parking requirements for churches.
The town’s parking ordinance suggests one parking space should suffice for every three seats in a church, but it does not specify parking standards for other religious institutions. So the town is now asking the Islamic Society to build 110 parking spaces for the mosque.
The planning board says it has a right to determine on a case-by-case basis what the proper standards are for adequate parking for buildings around town, and that mosques specifically draw very different traffic patterns than churches, and should be guided by separate statistics.
In a Jan. 3 memo to the planning board, board attorney Jonathan Drill and board planner David Banisch suggest, “while a mosque use is similar to a church use in that both are houses of worship, there are differences between them in terms of parking generation as evidenced by the data reported” in the fourth edition Institute of Transportation Engineers’ “Parking Generation” manual, which was updated in 2010 to address parking standards specifically for mosques and synagogues.
“Churches should no longer apply to synagogues and mosques, each of which generates its own distinctive traffic patters and numbers so each of which should now have its own distinctive parking requirements,” the memo states, quoting the ITE guide.
The attorney for the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge previously accused the planning board of ignoring its own zoning ordinance and is “making it up as they go along” when it comes to approving parking requirements in its application.
“I am shocked that they are not using the standards set forth in the (town) ordinance,” said Vincent T. Bisogno, attorney for the mosque, who says the mosque should be held to the same standards as churches. With an anticipated congregation of 150, Bisogno said, the mosque should be required to provide 50 spaces. (150 this week, next month 450)
Imam Hamad Ahmad Chebli, director of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey in South Brunswick, said his mosque only holds festivals that draw crowds exceeding 10 to 15 individuals about twice a year — and when that happens, the mosque prepares by hiring an outside bus service or encouraging worshipers to carpool.
Generally, though, he said most people are tired after work, that despite having a large congregation, usually only 10 to 15 people show up for prayers.