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Muslim group sues Bridgewater, claims town illegally changed zoning laws to block mosque

The Muslim Center of Somerset pray at the rented Redwood Inn in Bridgewater in this 2006 file photo.

Muslim group sues Bridgewater, claims town illegally changed zoning laws to block mosque

Bridgewater, New Jersey — A group of Somerset County Muslims is suing the township, alleging it illegally changed its zoning laws to block them from renovating a vacant banquet hall into a mosque and community center, according to court papers.

“What should have been an uncomplicated approval of the application then foundered in a storm of anti-Muslim sentiment and hysteria,” stated the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Trenton.

Worshippers associated with the mosque, called alFalah Center, sought to renovate the vacant Redwood Inn on Mountaintop Road. But the proposal led to concerns about traffic safety in the area, and the township passed an ordinance last month barring houses of worship from being constructed on residential streets – effectively blocking the mosque’s construction at that location.

Star-Ledger, 27 April 2011

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7 Comments »

  1. Not everything is anti Muslim:
    “But the proposal led to concerns about traffic safety in the area, and the township passed an ordinance last month barring houses of worship from being constructed on residential streets”

    Who would want any business or church in a residential area? The increased traffic flow hampers backing out of the driveway and makes it riskier for children riding their bikes on the street, which is something kids do in neighborhoods.
    Before accusing the town of being anti Muslim I think it should be researched a little better to find what people’s opinions actually were and how the hall got there to begin with. This seems like a case where the word bigot is being used a little to quickly.

  2. @criley 401 — thank you for your fairmindedness! I live in the neighborhood of the Redwood Inn, and there is much more to this story than is presented in press releases prepared by AlFalah’s lawyers, or in the complaint which is full of inaccuracies. The site chosen by AlFalah for the mosque/community center is in the middle of a residential area, which is served by narrow, winding, steep, neighborhod roads. These same roads are used by kids on bikes, skateboards, dog walkers, runners, etc., and these roads are the only access points for all the homeowners who live on this mountain. The Redwood Inn was built in the 1930’s, decades before the housing developments that now surround it, and it’s been closed for years and rarely used for years before that. It was grandfathered for use as a banquet hall, but when the owner wanted to sell the property to a developer to buildt homes, the planning board reduced the number from 7 to 5 building lots because neighbors were concerned about density, and that was for an entirely residential use. Bridgewater is a diverse, welcoming community — at town meetings, residents offered to help find a suitable location for the mosque. No one said they didn’t want a mosque here. But we’re being called racists because we have valid traffic safety concerns. It’s wrong to slander a community with such mistruths. It’s also really unfortunate AlFalah won’t consider other suitable real estate parcels in and around Bridgewater. Instead of doing that, and working on a cooperative win-win approach, they’ve decided to sue and embark upon a media smear campaign. I really wish someone would convince AlFalah to look at alternative properties — it they had chosen a suitable location with safe roadway access, they would be using the facility for worship services by now.

  3. sk8-er mom — Thanks for your sincere response. Please be reassured that nobody is calling you a racist; you have the absolute right to have and express any and all concerns as you have…. But the opportunities to share and discuss the questions you raise were derailed by the actions of the township government itself – it’s THEY who were unjust. They do not have the right to rush a change in the zoning laws that discriminates against Muslims! The town government pre-empted the efforts that were already being made to work together, by choosing to use the law as a blunt instrument to block this mosque. The local Muslim community is only trying to restore their rights, to have their house of worship application evaluated under the same legal standards as every other church or synagogue in town.

  4. Oh my goodness Hannah, the law covers every house of worship regardless of religion. The town does not want any house of worship on that hill for the reasons the woman specifies. Who wants their children endangered by turning a low traffic area into a high traffic area on a narrow winding road. I imagine the building is cheap and the view is great but it is a hardship on the community. Do you really think the temple is going to be appreciated if it bulls its way into a community? How long do you think it is going to be before the temples owners start complaining about skateboarders, bicycles, joggers, street hockey players and so on slowing access to the temple and want the local police to ticket people blocking or slowing access to the temple? High traffic building have no business in residential areas and I am sure that the results would have been the same if the building had been a Christian church or Catholic church. It is not about rights it is about zoning and community planning. There was a hole in the zoning regs and they were corrected to ensure the safety of this community, which is what the zoning commission is for. It is done daily in towns across America.

  5. Hannah: The zoning ordinance applies to all religious groups and requires all groups locate on a major road, which as Criley401 points out, is done all the time in the course of community planning. NJ’s governor specifically allowed towns a full year to get their zoning in order, and Bridgewater acted within that time frame — there’s nothing illegal about it. Criley 401 is also 100% correct in noting that any house of worship proposed for this neighborhood would be fought with the same zeal by the neighbors. We want to keep our neighborhood streets safe and residential and no high intensity use will be safe here. I don’t care who’s behind the wheel — muslims, christians, jews, athesists — my kids will not be safe when more traffic comes to these streets. Again, I have to ask the question: why not pursue the available commercial properties rather than try to force this intensive use upon a quiet neighborhood using false claims and a flawed law?

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