An attempt by the nonprofit group Bayonne Muslims to open a community center at a location in Bayonne, New Jersey, did not get the required number of votes to allow its opening.
A seven-member board voted 4-3 in favor of the proposal, but five votes were needed to secure an approval.
The group has been renting a space for years in the basement of the closed St. Henry’s School, located at 27th Street and Avenue C, as a temporary place of worship.
The Bayonne Muslims have been trying since August 2015 to open a community center that would offer prayer halls, classrooms, and a soup kitchen, as well as become a permanent home for the group.
Only one witness testified at the board meeting. John McDonough, a professional planner, stated that the community center would not be a parking problem during peak hours. He was in favor of the community center, saying, “This land use, by its very nature, protects the public good.”
However, before the board voted, there was a public meeting held at Bayonne High School which was attended by a large group of people who were against the plan, citing potential parking issues and traffic problems.
There were also multiple commissioners against the center who said it would not be “appropriate for the area.”
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Mark Urban, the chairman of the board said, “As a Bayonne resident, I’m embarrassed at some of the comments I heard tonight.”
One resident, who attended the hearing and spoke during the open public comment section of the meeting, cited verses from the Qur’an as a reason for not approving the Muslim center.
The meeting was suspended prematurely for recess after hundreds of people began to get aggravated. When the meeting resumed, Urban told the crowd that no more comments on religion would be addressed from the audience.
Urban said “We are not going there. This is a zoning issue only.”
When the vote finally came, those opposed to the proposal applauded.
Since the proposal was introduced in August 2015, the Muslim community center has been one of Bayonne’s most controversial topics.
In October, Muslims who showed up at their place of worship in the basement of the St. Henry’s School building were greeted with anti-Muslim graffiti on the windows and walls outside of the building. Someone was eventually arrested for the crime.
One of the opponents to the Muslim center was a local pastor who called it a “mosque” and put up signs on his house stating “Stop the Mosque” and “Save Bayonne.”
The pastor wound up having his house vandalized with graffiti, soon thereafter.
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