A New Jersey Islamic society suing a township planning board for rejecting its proposal to build a mosque because of alleged anti-Muslim animus filed a motion in federal court Friday to quash a resolution the board passed in April providing the group an opportunity for a rehearing.
The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, whose application to construct a 4,252 square-foot mosque was denied in December after four years of hearings, argues that the Bernards Township Planning Board lost jurisdiction over the society's land-use application once the society decided to challenge the board’s rejection in court on March 10. As a result, the board should not have issued its April 19 resolution giving the society 90 days to resubmit its plans, the society contends.
The board has said it rejected the proposed mosque because the plan failed to satisfy certain land-use requirements, but the society alleges the board applied different land-use standards to Muslim and non-Muslim houses of worship.
“The planning board is attempting to retrospectively manufacture evidence supportive of its defenses and by doing so has exposed its willingness to leverage its municipal powers to circumvent this court’s jurisdiction,” the motion reads.
Bernards Township Mayor Carol Bianchi told NBC News in a statement that she was disappointed the society filed the motion.
“I have no doubt the planning board was acting in good faith by passing the resolution,” she said. “The motions filed by plaintiffs, however, do not seem to indicate a good faith desire to resolve the issues."
Adeel A. Mangi, an attorney for the society, told NBC News that neither he nor Mohammad Ali Chaudry, president and founder of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, had any comment. Howard B. Mankoff, who represents the planning board, did not return a request for comment.
In March, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge filed a 112-page lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, accusing the board of religious discrimination in denying the society's application after 39 public hearings, the first of which was held on Aug. 7, 2012. Both before and after, the society alleges it was targeted with anti-Islamic sentiment.
One flyer distributed in the community asked whether terrorist acts are "something they taught in your mosques and at home," according to the complaint. A website called barenakedislam.com posted an article about the proposed mosque with its own embedded commentary and included such statements as "nobody wants to live near potential terrorists," the lawsuit said.
And the society's mailbox, court papers said, was defaced with three-inch stickers to change its acronym from "ISBR" to "ISIS."
While the society's proposal was still before the board, the township committee passed an ordinance in October 2013 changing the zoning rules for houses of worship, conditions the society said were “hard or impossible-to-meet," according to the lawsuit. In the resolution that the society is challenging, the board promised to review a reapplication based on zoning regulations in effect for a residential area when the society filed its proposal in 2012.
In December, the board turned down the society's proposed mosque because it did not fulfill certain ordinance requirements, including complying with landscaping and fencing regulations, submitting compliant stormwater drainage plans, and designing a parking lot that would allow fire trucks access, according to the resolution. Bianchi, the township mayor, has said the resolution demonstrates that “anyone who knows our planning board members trusts that each made his/her decision based upon land use considerations and not religion.”
But the society alleges the board capitulated to anti-Muslim animus in the community in rejecting its application. The motion Friday asks the court to enjoin the planning board from further acting on the society’s application, unless the court sends it back to the board or the board’s action is to bring about a settlement.
In a separate filing Friday, the society asked the court for a partial judgement to void as unconstitutional portions of a township ordinance that allowed the planning board to allegedly apply a different standard in deciding the required amount of parking for the proposed mosque.
The planning board determined the mosque needed 107 parking spaces, more than double the 50 required by township ordinance under a ratio for houses of worship, the filing reads.
“The Planning Board then leveraged its parking determination to generate a litany of other pretextual bases for denial, e.g., quibbling over the placement of a drainage basin forced into its proposed location by the supersized parking lot,” according to the motion.
The society is asking that oral arguments be scheduled for both motions.