The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge (“ISBR”) and Mohammad Ali Chaudry, Ph.D.’s challenged the Planning Board’s denial of ISBR Muslim congregation’s site plan application to build a mosque. ISBR challenged the denial on two bases: Defendants’ disparate application of an off-street parking requirement between Christian churches and Muslim mosques, pursuant to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”); and the purported unconstitutional vagueness of a parking ordinance (“Parking Ordinance”) under the Federal and New Jersey Constitutions.
The Court found that the Parking Ordinance’s 3:1 ratio applied to churches, synagogues, and mosques because the term “churches” applied to places of worship for any religion. Accordingly, the court held that the Parking Ordinance was neutral and generally applicable, and did not give rise to a facial violation of RLUIPA’s Nondiscrimination Provision. While Defendants argued that the proffered comparators were not similarly situated because, unlike ISBR’s application, the proffered comparators did not propose building Muslim mosques, the court rejected this position, since under this position the only way a Muslim applicant could prove religious discrimination would be to demonstrate that other Muslim applicants were treated differently.
Defendants next attempted to justify the treatment of ISBR’s application, as it related to parking, by claiming that they were striving to accurately determine the parking demand. However, the undisputed disparate treatment 66 between ISBR and the proffered comparators’ applications in the record served to rebut this justification. Here Defendants’ argument as to why the 3:1 ratio for “churches” did not apply to mosques was not supported by any elaboration or further explanation in Defendants’ Answer or Opposition Brief.
As to the vagueness argument, the court held that the Parking Ordinance’s initial ratios were likewise rendered moot by the Board’s blanket authority to change the requirement without abiding by any explicit standards. This lack of standards was further exemplified by the inconsistent methodologies applied by the Board, and the unbridled discretion afforded to the Board failed to conform to the Board’s alleged purpose of precisely measuring parking demands. Moreover, Defendants failed to identify any method by which an applicant would be able to predict the number of parking spaces the Board would require. Accordingly, the Court held that the challenged provisions of the ordinance were unconstitutionally vague under the United States and New Jersey Constitutions, as applied to “churches.”
Islamic Society of Basking Ridge v. Township of Bernards, 2016 WL 7496661 (D NJ 12/31/2016)