Siding with neighboring residents who are unhappy about the proposed expansion of parking lots at the Islamic Society Center of Monmouth County on Red Hill Road, the Middletown Planning Board told representatives of the mosque to revise the landscape plans.
The matter was rescheduled for July 11, at which time members of the public who wish to comment on the Society's plans for more parking and a community center will be heard. More than 100 people attended the meeting Wednesday, which verged on the edge of boisterous when a few members of the public attempted to make comments about Muslims which the board attorney deemed unrelated to the applicant's testimony.
Planning Board Vice Chairman Carl Rathjen showed no patience for the opinionated speakers, telling them to "stand down" to a few boos and muttered jeers from some in the benches. Several uniformed policemen stood against the perimeter of the room during the four-hour long meeting.
Susan and Bruce Putnoky of Holmdel, who live across the street from the Society's newly acquired property adjacent to the property, said they want to see green brushes and shrubs, earth berms and a more substantial setback -- and not a four-foot high fence to shield their glass-front home from parked cars. "That property is elevated. They propose 21 parking spaces head-on, into my property. My house is 30 feet from the curbline," Bruce Putnoky told the board.
Putnoky also said he was concerned about the "environmental integrity and beauty" of that section of road being turned into parking lots.
The Islamic Society is seeking to expand due to the popularity of its Friday prayer service. Between noon and 2 p.m., the property's parking lot becomes overwhelmed with vehicles and congregants have to park on the grass and alongside the driveways.
Mohammed Mosaad of Holmdel, the vice president of the Society, explained that although the usual attendance is around 200-250 people, as many as 300 people may come for prayer services at the mosque on the busiest days and the during Ramadan. Because congregants are coming from work, school or other places at that time, they are not traveling together in one car. Presently there is parking for 142 cars. The proposal is to expand the parking by an additional 105 spots, for a total of 247 spaces, and add a brick-paver plaza surrounded by a split rail fence for picnicking use.
The mosque leaders are also seeking a nod from the board to move forward with proposal for its Phase II plan, to build a 5,300 square foot community center with basement and two levels.
The congregation of the Islamic Society of Monmouth County is mostly Egyptian born, and adherents to the Sunni branch of Islam. The imam is Sheikh Reda Assayyid Shata, who attended the meeting along with several other Islamic Center supporters, some in traditional clothing.
According to Mosaad, the Society paid $500,000 to acquire an adjacent piece of land for its expansion. The parking lot, drainage and engineering fees will cost $500,000 as well. The cost of a community center at the site is not yet known, and will be a long time project that will take several years for Society members to raise funds for and construct.