We previously reported about the Bernards Township Planning Board’s review of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge’s proposal to construct a 4,252-square-foot mosque on a 4.3 acre parcel of land it purchased in Bernardsville, New Jersey (click here to read our previous post). Now, the Planning Board has raised eyebrows over a new zoning ordinance that will make it more difficult for institutional uses, including religious uses, to locate. The new ordinance would toughen bulk requirements for religious land uses as follows:
· Increase the minimum lot size from 3 acres to 6 acres
· Lower the maximum lot coverage from 30% to 15%
· Lower the maximum floor area ratio from 15% to 10%
· Raise the building setback to the nearest property line from 75 feet to 100 feet
· Prohibit outdoor activities after 8:00 p.m.
· Prohibit non-security exterior lighting after 11:00 p.m.
While religious uses had been permitted as of right in the residential zone, under the new ordinance they would be allowed in the zone only as “conditional uses” if they satisfy certain criteria to show that the proposal is appropriate for the subject property. Existing religious institutions will be “grandfathered,” but subject to the new ordinance if they seek to expand.
The new ordinance will not affect the Islamic Society’s pending application to construct the mosque, however reports suggest that the ordinance was enacted in response to calls for tougher standards on religious institutions in residential zones. There is some concern that the new ordinance may face a lawsuit on the ground that it violates RLUIPA. To read more about the new ordinance, click here. As for the Islamic Society’s proposal, the Planning Board has scheduled a December 3, 2013 meeting to consider the issue. It will be the eleventh meeting on the subject. To read more about the mosque proposal, click here.