New Jersey zoning board rejects Muslim community center

BAYONNE, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey zoning board has turned down an application to open a Muslim community center in a vote following five hours of discussion that the chairman said included some embarrassing audience comments.

The board voted 4-3 in favor, but the proposal needed a minimum of five affirmative votes to pass. Those who voted against it cited parking and traffic concerns.

The Jersey Journal reported John McDonough, a licensed professional planner, told the board the center would not conflict with regular peak parking hours for the surrounding area.

"This land use by its very nature protects the public good," McDonough said.

But some commissioners disagreed.

The nonprofit Bayonne Muslims group has been trying since 2015 to open the center, which would include prayer halls, a soup kitchen and classrooms. It has been using a closed school as a house of worship.

The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the decision was "bias-motivated."

Some audience members made religious comments, which drew a rebuke from board chairman Mark Urban.

"We're not going there," he told the audience. "This is a zoning issue only."