After 2-year battle that included racist attacks, Bayonne approves mosque

BAYONNE, N.J. — The city of Bayonne initially turned the project down a year ago, but Tuesday night the zoning board unanimously cleared the way for the city’s first mosque after two years of public protests, vandalism, tense hearings and a discrimination lawsuit brought by the non-profit group, Bayonne Muslims.

The Department of Justice has also opened an investigation into whether religion was a motivating factor.

"I’m grateful it happened. I wish it didn’t have to go this far,” Waheed Akbar, board secretary for Bayonne Muslims, said.

The mosque will be built on 24th Street on the east side. It will transform a defunct factory on a dead end street to a bustling community center. But residents' fear of congestion remains.

"Whether this is a supermarket or a movie theater, we’d have the same problem,” life-long resident Joseph Wisniewski said.

He pointed to a housing development currently under construction across the street from the mosque site.

"There’s going to be a ton of traffic here. I’m actually thinking about moving,” he said. "I’m just disgusted. I’ve fought this battle for three years. The neighborhood is never going to be the same between the 180-unit [apartment building] and the mosque. It’s going to force a lot of people out."

Other municipalities in New Jersey have lost costly battles against proposed mosques in their townships. Bernards Township paid $3.25 million to settle a lawsuit in 2017 and Bridgewater paid $7.74 million in 2014.

At last night's meeting in Bayonne, city officials noted it would likely be a lengthy and expensive legal battle to pursue.

“I feel where they’re coming from, I just feel they haven’t understood,” Akbar said. "We are a peninsula city. We are close to New York City. The proximity, the development going on in the city. We need to get on board.”

The non profit group Bayonne Muslims did settle their lawsuit against the city for $400,000.

They’ll now focus on fundraising and filing permits to begin construction on the site.