Mosque Parking, Traffic Calculations Questioned
Traffic consultant due to return at special Bernards Planning Board meeting on Nov. 28.
A traffic consultant representing the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, which has proposed building a mosque in place of a private home at 124 Church Street in Liberty Corner, on Thursday faced questions about the validity of his calculations on traffic and adequate parking at the facility.
The consultant, Henry J. Ney, is scheduled to return at a continuation of the public hearing on the proposed mosque at a special Planning Board meeting set for 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 28.
Ney, speaking about a plan that calls for 50 parking spaces to accommodate services and activities within the proposed 4,200-square-foot mosque, said that in conducting his traffic study he at least doubled what would be the anticipated number of vehicles for some activities.
Ney said he based his calculations on the plan's estimates of a maximum of 150 worshippers at one time attending the primary Friday weekly service at 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., a time he said would not even come close to interfering with traffic generated by the dismissal of students from the nearby Liberty Corner Elementary School.
Ney added that Somerset County already has given its seal of approval to the proposed traffic plan, which would have cars heading to the center entering and exiting to Church Street via a loop driveway.
But while Ney said he based his estimates for traffic on generally accepted averages for churches and other public gatherings — with an anticipated three persons arriving per car — questions from the board and public centered on whether fewer passengers would be in each vehicle arriving at mosque services.
Upon questioning, Ney said he had spent some time observing traffic heading to a much larger mosque already located in Holmdel, and said he had seen most cars arriving for Friday services there carrying one or two occupants per vehicle.
During public questions, resident Lori Caratzola, as had others, asked whether the basis of three occupants per vehicle in the traffic study had assumed that on average parents and a child might be attending a church or other house of worship.
Ney said that the estimate is based on average vehicle occupancy for any place with public gatherings.
In that case, Caratzola said, the destination likely would be a location where people would be coming together, rather than attendees primarily arriving from work in the middle of the day.
As board members and residents continued to ask whether the traffic patterns for a mosque would be different than any other house of worship — a permitted use in the residential zone where the property is located — Vincent Bisogno, attorney for the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, objected to the relevance of the questions.
"I think the board is concerned about whether there will be sufficient parking for those attending," said Planning Board Attorney Jonathan Drill.
The Planning Board's attorney, Frank Banisch, said he had calculated that the occupancy for the proposed prayer service area for the mosque, given the size of prayer mats, would be 168, rather than 150, which would call for at least six more required parking spaces, even on the estimated basis of three occupants per vehicle.
If the numbers at the Friday prayer service are higher than anticipated, Ali Chaudry, president of the Islamic Society, a township resident and former member of the Township Committee, said that a second service could potentially be added prior to the 1 p.m. service.
Other board members said that minutes from a prior meeting said that Chaudry had suggested that a second service could be added after the first service — which could potentially bring more traffic into the area when the Liberty Corner School was dismissing students — but Chaudry maintained that he would not have made that suggestion.
In a mosque, "Friday prayer service is never after 2 p.m.," Bisogno said, conveying information from Chaudry.
Although numbers probably would be much smaller, Ney also said his traffic report had factored in 25 — and even 50 cars — for worshippers expected to attend sunrise services and a small Sunday school.
But others at the meeting asked whether weddings and other events at the mosque potentially could bring in larger numbers of people at the proposed 4,200-square-foot structure.
Ney said he had performed his study in early December 2011, and had calculated that the mosque's construction would have no impact on local traffic. He said that the estimated 50 vehicles at the mosque's busiest time of the week — the Friday service — would not add up to sufficient traffic to have studied whether it would add to stacking of cars at a recently installed four-way stop at Church Street and Somerville Road.
Ney was asked to provide additional information, including the basis for his traffic calculations prior to the Nov. 28 special meeting. Public questions on his testimony are expected to continue on that date.