By John Burton
MIDDLETOWN — The township Planning Board could render its decision Wednesday, Aug. 1, on the plans to expand parking and construct a community center at a township mosque.
When the board last heard the application for the Islamic Society of Monmouth County on July 11, some board members said they were not overly impressed with parts of the plan revisions. The board had encouraged them to make changes to the application during a June 1 meeting. Two neighbors of the society’s Red Hill Road property voiced similar positions, asking for some additional modifications before the society’s representatives returned next week.
The Islamic Society of Monmouth County, 506 Red Hill Road is seeking board permission to expand its parking lot by an additional 106 spaces and construct an approximate 5,000 square-foot community center and a 19,000 square-foot plaza area on the roughly 7.5-acre property on the border of Middletown and Holmdel.
The property currently contains the mosque, a guest house and office space.
Changes are being sought to accommodate the needs of the more than 300 worshipers who regularly attend religious services there, said attorney Patrick Healy, who is representing the mosque.
Additional parking is needed because services are conducted on Fridays and members often come individually by car from places, such as work and school, making the parking on the site tight.
In July Sharif Aly, the project’s engineer, told the board and large audience that the plans were amended to accommodate the concerns of the board and neighbors, which included additional landscaping. Plans now call for an expanded buffer between the site and its neighbors, and the relocation to the sites’ interior of 14 parking spaces, originally designed to face Red Hill Road.
Neighbors, however, still expressed reservations that the changes wouldn’t block them from the increased traffic and noise at the property when it is in use.
The mosque sits predominately in a residential area.
“I think the neighbors have a legitimate issue,” board member Timothy Sodon said.
He and other members had said, given the amount of activity on the site, they would like to see additional buffering and landscaping.
After hearing those and other comments at the July meeting, Healy requested an adjournment until the August session to again re-evaluate the plans.
Both meetings on the application attracted large crowds. During July’s session, which included audience members in both Western and traditional Muslim dress, there appeared to be many more members of the mosque’s congregation.
During the public comment portion, only neighbors spoke and questioned the proposal. There were no repeats of the June hearing, during which a couple of audience members attempted to interject incendiary comments, before being quickly stopped by the board chairman and the board attorney.
When the board reconvenes on Aug.1 it is expected to finish the proceedings, allowing for additional public questions and comments, and offer its vote on the application.
The Islamic Society of Monmouth County received initial planning board approval for the mosque in 1999.