15 March 2016

Religion and zoning

Religion and planning can be  an interesting combination. Despite protections under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), many houses of worship find planning boards to be less than welcoming. The flip side is that many planning boards see applications that think that their religious status exempts them from any legal restrictions.

The Home News and Tribune writes that Hillsborough Township is currently caught up in multiple cases involving zoning of potential sites for religious institutions and their houses of worship.

The NY Times reports on Bernards Township being sued over the zoning change for an Islamic mosque. They say that there were 39 public hearings and lots of demands by public officials. The applicant, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, has as its president former Basking Ridge mayor Ali Chaudry, sothis isn't an outside group unfamiliar with the terrain.

The article suggests that some opponents dropped the land use concerns and opposed the mosque openly because of the religion's ties to Islamic Shariah law.

The planning board says it looked only at basic land use issues. But NJ.com writes about the lawsuit saying that it "also reports in detail how other churches and synagogues in the township met no resistance during their development applications." Based on the level of emotion in the responses online, I doubt that this is the last case we will see like this in our area.

UPDATE 3/15: Tom's River has a different case which is still tied up in landscape and religion.

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