Bernards Township, New Jersey has invited the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge to resubmit an application to develop a mosque.  Earlier this year, the Township denied the Islamic Society’s application for a 4,250 square foot mosque after more than 39 public hearing sessions over the course of about 4 years.  The Township’s protracted review of the application culminated in denial for a variety of reasons – parking, insufficient buffers, storm water management, and emergency access.  The Islamic Society claims that it expended $450,000 in the protracted review process.  In March of this year, the Islamic Society filed a 112 page federal complaint suing the Township for violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the U.S. Constitution, among other laws.  Former Township mayor and president of the Islamic Society, Ali Chaudry, is also a plaintiff in the case.

The Islamic Society’s complaint alleges that anti-Muslim animus caused the Township to deny its application.  The United States Department of Justice has confirmed that it is investigating whether religious discrimination played a role.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the Township issued a written response:

Bernards Township is an inclusive and warm community.  The allegations in the lawsuit do not represent our community.  It is not unusual for an applicant to appeal a denial, and it is their right. The Planning Board made its decision and now the court will decide whether to uphold that decision.  We look forward to a satisfactory resolution of this matter.

Since the filing of the lawsuit, the Township’s Planning Board has issued a resolution giving the Islamic Society 90 days to refile an application for a mosque.  The Islamic Society filed in federal court a motion to quash the Planning Board’s resolution, and has stated that it will not submit a new application.  The Planning Board’s resolution is especially interesting, given that RLUIPA contains a “safe harbor” provision that allows municipalities to take action to correct any statutory violations to escape liability.  Read more about the safe harbor provision here.

On May 6, the Islamic Society filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings – arguing that it should win the case based on the paper filings.  In the motion, the Islamic Society contends that the Township violated RLUIPA by requiring the proposed mosque to have more than triple the amount of parking spaces required – a requirement that had never been applied to any other applicant.  It also alleges that the parking ordinance is unconstitutionally vague.  The Township has until June 20 to file a response.

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Photo of Evan Seeman Evan Seeman

Evan J. Seeman is a lawyer in Robinson+Cole’s Hartford office and focuses his practice on land use, real estate, environmental, and regulatory matters, representing local governments, developers and advocacy groups. He has spoken and written about RLUIPA, and was a lead author of…

Evan J. Seeman is a lawyer in Robinson+Cole’s Hartford office and focuses his practice on land use, real estate, environmental, and regulatory matters, representing local governments, developers and advocacy groups. He has spoken and written about RLUIPA, and was a lead author of an amicus curiae brief at the petition stage before the United States Supreme Court in a RLUIPA case entitled City of San Leandro v. International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

Evan serves as the Secretary/Treasurer of the APA’s Planning & Law Division. He also serves as the Chair of the Planning & Zoning Section of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section, and is the former Co-Chair of its Municipal Law Section. He has been named to the Connecticut Super Lawyers® list as a Rising Star in the area of Land Use Law for 2013 and 2014. He received his B.A. in political science and Russian studies (with honors) from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was selected as the President’s Fellow in the Department of Modern Languages and Literature. Evan received his Juris Doctor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, where he served on the Connecticut Law Review. While in law school, he interned with the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General in the environmental department, and served as a judicial intern for the judges of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court. Following law school, Evan clerked for the Honorable F. Herbert Gruendel of the Connecticut Appellate Court.

Photo of Karla Chaffee Karla Chaffee

Karla L. Chaffee is a member of Robinson+Cole’s Real Estate + Development Group and is based in the Boston office, focusing on a variety of land use and environmental matters. Karla’s interest in RLUIPA began in law school when she co-authored, “Six

Karla L. Chaffee is a member of Robinson+Cole’s Real Estate + Development Group and is based in the Boston office, focusing on a variety of land use and environmental matters. Karla’s interest in RLUIPA began in law school when she co-authored, “Six Fact Patterns of Substantial Burden in RLUIPA: Lessons for Potential Litigants,” (with Dwight Merriam) published in Albany Government Law Review (Spring 2009). Karla has continued to write and speak on RLUIPA and has represented clients in several federal proceedings, including RLUIPA, First Amendment, and Equal Protection claims. In addition to her RLUIPA practice, Karla has litigated complex environmental matters, defending claims under Massachusetts Chapter 21E. Karla’s transactional experience includes pre-acquisition and pre-financing due diligence, environmental risk assessment and risk mitigation. She also represents clients seeking local zoning approvals and counsels them on the impact of proposed or recently enacted land use legislation, as well as on land use trends across the country.

Karla is also a proud member of Robinson+Cole’s Pro Bono Committee and is dedicated to maintaining pro bono work as part of her practice. Her pro bono clients include individuals and families seeking asylum in the United States. She has also represented nonprofit organizations in obtaining tax-exempt status and has served as legal counsel in a zoning appeal for a nonprofit association created to support and protect a national park.