Wayne, NJ

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Description

A documented account of Case No. NJ_01, occurring in Wayne, NJ 07470 from 2003 to 2008

Creator

Stewart Zelnick

Year

2003

Proposed Project

mosque

Outcome

AFF sold land to Twp after settlement; subsequently moved to different location outside of Twp

Narrative

On October 5, 2001, the Albanian Associated Fund (AAF) finalized the purchase of a property along the Hamburg Turnpike in the Township of Wayne (“Wayne”) in northern New Jersey.  A year later, the AAF submitted a Land Development Application and a Site Plan for a religious facility.  The AAF met with the Township of Wayne Planning Board for the first time on March 24, 2003.  The original plans for the development included a 39,392-square-foot recreation center and school as well as a 4,864-square-foot mosque (Ratish, 2004).  After the first Planning Board meeting, the Township of Wayne’s planner found that the application met all permitting requirements in October of 2003. Over the next four years, the Planning Board continued to deliberate AAF’s application in more than twenty hearings.  After deliberation, the Planning Board would eventually attempt to seize the AAF’s property through the use of eminent domain.   This extended span of meetings is very much not the norm and eventually led the AAF to accuse Wayne of possessing a bias against Muslims.

Shortly after the initial hearing, in November 2003, the Township of Wayne held a public vote to approve an Open Space Referendum.  In January of 2004, the township created the Open Space Committee, which was chaired by the mayor.  The goal of this referendum and subsequent committee was to set aside parcels of land for preservation.  One such parcel was the land that the AAF had spent years trying to develop. While the AAF’s application was still under discussion by the Planning Board, the Township began eminent domain proceedings to condemn the group’s property for open space preservation.

In Planning Board meetings from 2003 to 2006, city officials raised concerns over many different aspects, ranging from traffic and noise to concerns about the water level of the area and the rocky terrain.  In an effort to assuage these concerns, civil engineer Arthur Hanson explained stormwater plans at a special Planning Board meeting on February 3, 2005.  Residents, however, continued to oppose the project.

In a coordinated effort to oppose the mosque project, residents of Wayne formed the  “Property Protection Group” (PPG).  According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty which served as legal counsel for the AAF, the PPG “[had]...attempted to prevent the Muslims from locating in Wayne, complaining about minarets, calls to prayer, and describing the Mosque as ‘a public nuisance’” (Becket).

On March 14, 2005, the Planning Board adopted the aforementioned Open Space and Recreation Plan.  This plan listed the undeveloped land in Wayne, but “did not prioritize properties for acquisition as required by the Open Space Ordinance” (AAF v. Wayne Complaint).  In February of 2006, the township offered the mosque $510,000 in compensation for the property and suggested alternative locations for the project.  The AAF refused to sell the property.  This led to the township ending the AAF’s application process on March 8th and beginning the condemnation process shortly after. In July, the AAF sued the township for trying to seize the land under eminent domain.  As mentioned previously, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty served as legal counsel to the AAF.  In response to the suit and the condemnation process, a federal judge temporarily blocked Wayne from seizing the property.  In late January of 2007, the Planning Board officially vetoed the mosque project with a 7-0 vote. On February 23, 2007, it was reported that the AAF would go before a federal court judge with the complaint against the township in April.  The township filed a request for summary judgement and claimed that the eminent domain proceedings did not fall under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).  On July 24, the DOJ backed the AAF lawsuit and alleged that the property was taken in order to stop the AAF’s project.  The DOJ also recommended that the court deny the township’s request for summary judgement.  Part of the DOJ’s reasoning included the fact that the property, which was intended to be used for religious purposes, was seized by eminent domain.  Thus, the DOJ stated that the AAF’s case did indeed have standing because of the intended religious use of the property.  On October 1, 2007, a district court reflected the DOJ’s view when it ruled that RLUIPA can apply to the case and that the case could go to trial.  There is no public record of the settlement between the AAF and Wayne, but in December of 2008, the Township approved the sale agreement for the land to be sold.  On June 16, 2009, the AAF sold the property for just over $1,000,000.  The AAF has since moved to a site located at 90 Riverdale Road in Riverdale, New Jersey. 

Last Updated

July 1, 2020

Collection

Citation

Stewart Zelnick, “Wayne, NJ,” U.S. Mosque Controversies, accessed December 5, 2021, https://usmc.ecdsomeka.org/items/show/29.

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