Done deal
Bayonne Zoning Board approves Muslim community center
by Rory Pasquariello
Reporter staff writer
Mar 14, 2018 | 2705 views | 0 0 comments | 172 172 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ZONING
Bayonne Zoning Board Chairman Mark Urban
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“I do fit. I fit,” said Ali Hassam in response to a chorus of dissent from future neighbors of a Muslim community and prayer center on East 24th Street. The Bayonne Zoning Board of Adjustments voted unanimously to approve the application by Bayonne Muslims, a nonprofit entity that formally represents the Bayonne Muslim community.

“We are very pleased to have received the approval from the zoning board tonight,” said Adeel Mangi, an attorney representing the group. “We look forward to the opening of a mosque in Bayonne where all residents of all faiths will be welcomed.”

“Officially it’s final, but I wish the people on that side, I know they feel heartbroken. I just pray to God that He heals our hearts,” said Maryan Ruparelia. “May this project become prosperous and God willing, a future that Bayonne will be proud of. That’s what I hope and pray for everyone.”

The zoning board’s decision in March of 2017 to deny the group’s application, for reasons of parking and “fit,” led to the City of Bayonne being sued by the local Muslim group and investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. The lawsuit, which challenged the zoning board’s decision based on First and Fourteenth Amendments as well as Municipal Land Use Law, was settled in January under the condition that the application be approved at this meeting.

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“I just pray to God that He heals our hearts.” Maryan Ruparelia.

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East Side residents who live within 200 feet of the site, where a long-abandoned warehouse on a dead-end street currently stands, sat on the opposite side of the auditorium from their Muslim counterparts and took turns speaking in five-minute sessions.

“My opinion hasn’t changed on this application,” said Bayonne Zoning Board Chairman Mark Urban before voting in favor this time, though he voted against the application in March.

“I have to differ with the traffic survey,” Urban said at the March meeting. “Parking is going to be an extreme issue there. In my opinion, I can't agree with approving this application because it will cause a detriment to the surrounding area and the neighbors, and it will diminish their quality of life.”

Before the vote, a number of residents urged the zoning board to deny the application. “Please don’t be bullied by a lawsuit,” said Joe Basile of Grace Bible Fellowship.

“Discrimination should not be tolerated, nor reverse discrimination in any form. My rights also matter,” said Melanie Flora, a recent retiree who lives within 200 feet of the center. “Everyone else has to go through zoning. When you didn’t win one way, you pulled out the race card, the discrimination card.”

“I feel my city let me down. Nobody came to bat for us,” said Rosemarie Bond, who has lived in the East Side neighborhood for over 50 years. “It’s not fair.”

“I love God, and I love everyone who does their thing. I get it,” said Dawn Sisak, who has opposed the center in the past. “You are the ones who are going to have the heartache when you’re circling around looking for parking like the rest of us.”

“I need for everyone to understand that there are individuals here investing big time in Bayonne,” said Mutasim Huda, who supports the community center. He was responding to some residents who implied that Muslims don’t invest in the community.

He went on to say, “I’m trusting Bayonne for my kids, and for my community, and everyone around me. I know it doesn’t seem very pleasant, but it’s a new wave that’s going on. For this town to move forward and be more progressive is to be open to new ideas and new institutions, developments, facilities. In my opinion, this is the only way forward.”

Rory Pasquariello can be reached at roryp@hudsonreporter.com.

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