Former Township Mayor Ali Chaudry, also president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, appeared Tuesday night before neighbors and the Bernards Township Planning Board to informally present plans to convert a four-bedroom home on Church Street in Liberty Corner into an Islamic center.
Chaudry said the Islamic Society already owns the house at 124 Church Street, approximately across the street from the Liberty Corner firehouse. He added and other professionals who presented the plan said the society also has reached out to neighbors, the Liberty Corner Fire Co. and First Aid Squad and others in seeking input before establishing a mosque to serve families from nearby in The Hills in other sections of Bernards Township and other sections fo the Somerset Hills.
"Traditional mosques look many different ways...reflecting local cultures," Chaudry said near the beginning of the presentation. He said the proposal is to create a center that would fit into the neighborhood of older homes, some historic, in Liberty Corner village.
Chaudry said he would like to return before the board with a complete and detailed site plan within a schedule for the center to open some time this year. But neither he nor the other professionals set a timeline for presenting a formal application, or fulfilling the plan discussed in concept on Tuesday night.
Phase one of the plan would call for little change to the existing structure, which with a storage shed adds up to almost 5,000 square feet of space on 4.3 acres, according to information presented to the Planning Board.
Prayers for adults and a Sunday school for about 25 children initally would be held in the large living room combined with other space in what had been built as a private home, apparently in the 1950s.
A maximum of 50 to 65 worshippers attend prayers on Friday afternoon between 1 to 2 p.m., he said. The longer-term plans for the mosque would be to accommodate participation by up to 100 people, he said.
Currently, Chaudry said members of the Islamic Center rent space from the Bernards Township Community Center for worship, and lease about five classrooms at the Somerset Hills YMCA to operate a Sunday school.
But the eventual plan is eventually to add a prayer hall measuring about 33 by 48 feet in size, according to the presentation.
Architect for the project is Dan Lincoln, a Bernardsville-based architect and president of the Historical Society of the Somerset Hills. Lincoln said the eventual addition would have an exterior of stucco and cultured stone, and would have a dome on top.
The plan as presented on Tuesday included drawings of a freestanding 45-foot-high "minaret," a type of pole-like steeple that is standard on mosques, but which Chaudry and the other professionals said could possibly be built into the new addition, and potentially could be reduced in height.
The new addition, as well as parking spaces, were proposed for the rear of the existing Dutch Colonial-style home.
The version of the plan as proposed on Tuesday included parking spaces for up to 43 vehicles, but Chaudry and the other professionals said they are open to "banking" about nine of those spots for now.
Chaudry said the mosque would be open for prayers five times a day, starting right before dawn, and ending a few hours after sundown. But he said that, except for Friday, those prayer sessions are lightly attended.
Prayer sessions near the end of the holiday of Ramadan would last the longest, he said. Meanwhile, an annual get-together for entire families, now held at the Olde Mill Inn, would hopefully continue at that venue, he said.
A house of worship is a permitted use in a residential zone, local attorney Vincent Bisogno said at the start of the presentation. But the applicants likely will seek zoning variances because already existing construction is within 25 feet of a next-door neighbor, instead of the required 50 feet for a residence and 75 feet for a home, he said.
Bisogno said the professionals would like to work to reduce the need for a variance for the minaret.
"We will consider what you said...and go back to the drawing table," Bisogno said at the end of the informal presentation.