A federal judge is weighing whether Wayne’s attempt to take property owned by an Albanian Muslim group fits the legal description of religious discrimination. .
But first U.S. District Judge Peter G. Sheridan must determine whether the law — which protects religious institutions from discrimination through land use regulations — applies in a lawsuit the Albanian Associated Fund has brought against the township. The Fund’s complaint is being supported by U.S. Justice Department officials who contend that the township conducted an irregular review of a Fund application to build a mosque and community center on the property.
Reflecting the township’s legal position, Wayne Mayor Scott Rumana has said the Colfax Road property is unsuitable for development because of steep slopes and rock outcroppings, prompting its targeting for open space preservation.
Township attorneys sought a ruling on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Newark that the federal law does not apply. Anthony Seijas, special counsel representing the township, argued that the law applies to zoning regulations, but does not apply to “takings.”
Attorneys for the Paterson-based Albanian group, however, argued the federal law applied because the town wanted to take the property to enforce its land-use policies to preserve open space. The attorneys for the Albanian group also are asking Sheridan to find that preserving open space is not a compelling government interest that trumps the freedom of religious exercise.