By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
Muslim Center of Somerset County wants to buy and move into an approved site for a Jewish center on New Amwell Road.
The Muslim Center would assume the 2013 approval granted the Chabad Center for Jewish Life to convert a multi-family dwelling into a house of worship at 26 New Amwell Road. The single-family home in front at 22 New Amwell Road was to be a home for the rabbi — and would become a home for an imam and two resident interns.
Essentially, the synagogue would become a mosque.
The Muslim Center’s application will come before the Board of Adjustment at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20. The center wants relief from conditions — primarily the days and times of worship services — of the board’s approvals in June 2013.
The Chabad is now located at 220 Triangle Road, Suite 221, next door to CVS Pharmacy. For larger events it rents venues, such as hotels, community centers or the Hillsborough Municipal Building multi-purpose room, said Miriam Krinsky of the Chabad.
In July 2013, the Muslim Center of Somerset County was denied planning approval to locate a house of worship in a strip shopping center off Route 206. The center proposed converting 4,244 square feet in three units of the Worden and Green shopping center into a faith-based educational/religious facility.
Houses of worship are not permitted in the neighborhood shopping district without a zoning use variance. The center received four yes votes to three no’s to allow the use of the building for a mosque, but Board of Adjustment cases require five affirmative votes for passage.
The Muslim Center, a 20-year-old independent nonprofit institution, wanted to take a five-year lease on the property while it sought a place to build a permanent mosque in Hillsborough.
The Chabad received preliminary and final site plan approval from the Board of Adjustment with variances to permit the multifamily house to be used as a house of worship, with the single-family home nearer the street as the rabbi’s residence. The approved plan provided for a total of 28 parking spaces, which included two garage spaces.
With the exception of the internal changes to the worship center, other site plan elements as approved by the zoning board would remain the same.
The lots have 150 feet of frontage on New Amwell Road, in the vicinity of Lynn Court. The two lots are separate, with a flag lot to the back multi-family house.
The two lots are 685 feet deep, and the 2.297 acres have a single driveway located on east side of the property. The zoning board’s conditions of approval said the driveway had to be widened 10 feet to a total of 20 feet. The two lots were to be consolidated into one, parking area expanded and a dropoff and turnaround for emergency vehicles created.
The peak use of the site would change to Friday from Saturday. Midday Friday is the peak weekly Muslim prayer day. Muslims are expected to pray five times a day (dawn, true noon, afternoon, sunset and dusk) for about 15-20 minutes each time, The application said it expected a maximum of 15 people would attend such services. Presently, Friday prayers are at the Hillsborough-Manville Elks Lodge at 1500 Brooks Blvd., and daily prayers are held at the Hillsborough Presbyterian Church on Route 206.
Friday services are 90 minutes, with 40-48 participants projected.
Ramadan observances are held nightly for 30 days, when expanded services of 75 minutes would be held twice a day. In 2016, Ramadan falls from June 6 to July 5.
A study filed with the application finds adequate parking. It projects 15 vehicle movements in and 15 out trips during weekday morning peak hour, and 26 in and 28 trips out on midday peak hour. Services generally begin at 1 p.m. with two services.
The study by H. Ney Associates also says the site can be developed “without negative impacts to the adjacent street system.”
The Muslim Center would have a preschool with hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., with maximum occupancy of 44 children and eight adults. The Chabad was approved for a Hebrew school in essentially the same time frame.
The house of worship would have a maximum capacity of 49 people. The Muslim center plans to use back building not only for worship, but to host community events, health and blood clinics, tutoring, professional study group, seminars, youth groups, preschool, adult education, according to the application.
By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor