Mosque plan irks neighbors in South Brunswick

Neighbors claim the Islamic Society of Central Jersey’s expansion plans are too large.

By:Joseph Harvie
   Residents of Richard Road and Princeton Gate say plans to expand the Islamic Society of Central Jersey on its 16.3-acre parcel could mean increased traffic, a decrease in property values and a negative effect on the environment.
   The society is seeking preliminary and final site-plan approval with bulk and use variances from the Zoning Board of Adjustment to build: a 10,700-square-foot expansion to the mosque; a 40,000-square-foot office building; a 385-spot split-level parking deck; a 104,000- square-foot, two-story school for students in kindergarten through 12th grade; and 22 to 26 senior citizen townhouses.
   Some of the variances the society is seeking include approval to build a school in a zone that doesn’t allow it, to exceed the allowed impervious coverage for the office building, and to allow buildings and driveways to be built in buffer areas separating the proposed construction and neighboring houses.
   In addition a variance would be needed to allow driveways, parking, buildings and streets to be built in the buffer area between the 18 proposed townhouses and Richard Road houses.
   Ten residents, who held a meeting to discuss the proposal Saturday, said they feel that the application is too large for the area and that it would have a negative impact on traffic, the environment and their everyday way of life.
   "You can compare it to building Disney World on the Middlesex County Fair Grounds," Donna Wrotny of Richard Road said. "And that’s just not possible."
   They also said they are concerned that increased traffic would mean more commuters using the shoulder on Route 1 as an exit ramp for Promenade Boulevard. They said that could cause problems for nearby Richard Road, which comes out on Route 1 north of Promenade; and commuters making illegal turns in and near Princeton Walk to get from the mosque to Route 1.
   Richard Road residents are worried that their road would no longer be a cul-du-sac under the proposal because a driveway for the proposed townhouses would be on their block.
   Residents said they don’t have a problem with the plans for the school or mosque expansion. But, they are concerned that the proposed office complex would increase traffic seven days a week.
   "If they wanted to expand the mosque and build the school, I would be fine with this," Jeff Packer of Essex Drive said. "But they want to build a whole community in this limited space."
   He also said a drainage swale that runs along the edge of his property is full no matter how much rain falls.
   "When it rains, all of the water from Wynwood and Richard Road storm sewers comes here," Mr. Packer said. "This doesn’t happen every 100 year storm like their experts say, it happens every time it rains."
   Joe Wrotny, who has lived on Richard Road for more than 25 years, said the soil in the area is mainly made of rock and clay and does not percolate well. He said the road was hooked up to the municipal sewer system because septic tanks kept failing.
   Essex Road residents were also concerned with plans to take down over 1,400 trees — some of which are more than 25 feet tall — that separate their road from the mosque. The plans call for those trees to be replaced with smaller ones, which the residents say won’t provide an adequate buffer from Route 1 and the mosque.
   "Right now that tree canopy is the only thing that blocks the sounds of the traffic on Route 1," Mr. Packer said. "They want to replace those trees with smaller ones that are only going to be 12 to 14 feet tall, those trees will never reach the height of the other ones in our lifetime."
   Richard Road residents said the project would increase traffic in front of their street. They said the proposed exit for the townhouse community does not take their safety or that of the surrounding community into consideration.
   Ken Hartman of Richard Road said people visiting the mosque and going to Promenade already use that shoulder. He said that if there is more traffic going to the mosque that would increase.
   According to a memorandum on file at the Planning Department, the South Brunswick Police Traffic Safety Bureau has several concerns about the application and how it would affect traffic at the intersection of Route 522 (Promenade Boulevard) and Route 1.
   One concern is that a new entrance and exit from the mosque on Route 1 would be about 120 feet from Richard Road, and police are worried that cars would have to decelerate in front of Richard Road.
   The police memorandum also said plans about an exit from the mosque onto Promenade Boulevard weren’t clear about whether or not the exit would be exclusively for right turns in and out of the complex, or if left turns would be permitted as well. Police said left turns would increase dangers at the intersection.
   In the memorandum, police stated that accidents at the intersection have increased between 1998 and 2003. In 1998 four accidents were reported; in 1999 six accidents; in 2000, 13 accidents; in 2001, 10 accidents; in 2002, 32 accidents; and in 2003, 55 accidents were reported.
   In the memorandum in the plans, the police Traffic Safety Bureau said it was concerned that the shopping center was not included in the study.
   Residents were concerned that the traffic study, compiled by consultants Schoor Depalma, did not include information about a shopping center at the southeast corner of the intersection of Route 522 and Route 1.
   The police memorandum said the reverse jughandle south of the intersection of southbound Route 1 and Route 522 was not taken into account in the traffic study, which it said would change the traffic pattern of the intersection.
   Christine Kapalski, a resident of Richard Road since the mid-1970s, said she is concerned that the buffer areas would be used as active land. According to the application, some of the buffer areas separating the proposed school from Essex Drive would be used as a play area. In addition, the buffer area separating Richard Road from the proposed construction would have part of the townhouse complex on it.
   "You have to maintain those buffers," Ms. Kapalski said. "The buffer is there to be a buffer, it is not there for a house."
   Mr. Packer said the parking lot is proposed to come right up to his backyard on Essex Drive, in the buffer area.
   "They have stakes for the parking right on my property line," Mr. Packer said. "I have a trees there now, and if this is approved I will have to see the lights and cars in the parking lot."