A New Jersey township planning board is giving an Islamic group a second chance to submit an application to build a mosque — a decision that comes a little more than a month after the group filed a federal lawsuit accusing the board of rejecting its proposal because of anti-Muslim animus.
The resolution, issued on April 19, gives the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge 90 days to refile with the Bernards Township Planning Board to construct a 4,252-square-foot mosque. In December, after 39 public hearings over four years, the board denied the society’s application, saying it failed to satisfy a number of land-use ordinances. The society, however, alleges that the board applied different land-use standards for Muslim and non-Muslim houses of worship.
The board’s attorney, Howard B. Mankoff, told NBC News that he wasn't authorized to discuss the resolution. Adeel A. Mangi, an attorney representing the society, also declined to comment.
Bernards Township mayor Carol Bianchi told NBC News in an email that the planning board’s resolution provides the society another opportunity to resolve the issues raised by the board.
“Anyone who knows our planning board members trusts that each made his/her decision based upon land use considerations and not religion, as the resolution further demonstrates,” Bianchi said.
According to the resolution, 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.
If the society reapplies, the board would review its application according to the zoning regulations in effect when the group filed its proposal in 2012, the resolution said. The township voted to change those zoning rules in October 2013, imposing “numerous additional hard or impossible-to-meet new conditions for houses of worship,” the society’s lawsuit alleges.
The society initially had 20 days to request a rehearing after the board’s rejection was made official on Jan. 19, according to the resolution. Instead, the society sued the board in federal court on March 10.
The lawsuit accuses the planning board of violating both state and federal constitutions, as well as the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. The complaint also alleges that land-use issues were a pretext for denying the society’s application and that board members, in reaching their decision, capitulated to alleged anti-Muslim sentiment expressed by some community members.
The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge argues that its proposed mosque was held to a different standard than churches and synagogues. The lawsuit asks that the court order the planning board to grant preliminary and final approval for the site plan submitted in November and that compensatory damages and other appropriate relief be awarded at trial.
The society said it has spent at least $450,000 to win approval for its proposed mosque, according to court documents.