CLIFTON – A new Richfield mosque’s leadership shot back at fierce critics who claimed its burgeoning congregation created parking and quality of life issues during the month-long Muslim celebration of Ramadan.
The Islamic Center of Passaic County (ICPC) held its grand opening on June 3 at 259 Pershing Road, the former home of the Richfield Christian Reformed Church. In the weeks which followed, incensed residents complained that worshipers tied up nearby residential streets, blocked driveways and, on one occasion, parked in front of a fire hydrant.
A contentious debate spilled over into the Clifton City Council’s July 5 meeting.
“I’ve approached this council three times now and, to date, [received] no answers, no solutions and an enormous amount of lip service,” said Mary Fran Simmons-Falluca. “I am angry.”
Officials countered that City Manager Dominick Villano and Clifton Councilwoman Lauren Murphy have met with the mosque’s decision-makers to rectify the problem.
A Pershing Road resident, Simmons-Falluca said car headlights light up neighborhood homes “like Christmas trees” and that she was unable to get out of her own driveway on Saturday. During last weekend’s end of Ramadan celebration, she said more than 500 congregants converged on the neighborhood which, she said, “without a doubt” exceeds the volume the area can accommodate.
According to ICPC officials, the mosque has formed a volunteer crew to self-police anyone blocking driveways or fire hydrants on Pershing.
“The problem for the mosque is that [Richfield Christian Reformed Church] was a sleepy hollow because it was dwindling and dwindling and dwindling in numbers,” Mayor James Anzaldi said. “So, now it’s a vibrant congregation and we’re in need of solving a parking issue there.”
The mayor said the City’s administration and council members have discussed the possibility of constructing a parking lot on the mosque’s three-acre property.
Councilman Joe Kolodziej said the municipal body hears and agrees with the complaints residents registered but stipulated government is “a large wheel” that turns slowly.
“Once it gets moving you have momentum but that takes a lot of time, consideration and effort,” he added. “So, to all the people who think that this council is not listening to the complaints I can assure you that that is not the case. We share those concerns.”
Kolodziej opined the over-parking in the area is an example of the new house of worship experiencing “growing pains.”
The Islamic group’s outreach coordinator, Salaheddin Mustafa, contended there should no longer be an overflow of parked cars since Ramadan ended. He said the ICPC expects Ramadan to present a “one-month” issue each year.
“But, we want to be good neighbors,” said Mustafa, whose Donna Drive home is a few blocks from the mosque’s property. “I want that neighborhood to be quiet as well and I don’t want my property value to go down either.”
Mustafa said the group is “willing to do anything” to resolve the problem but prefaced that the community must trust the Islamic organization. He added that anyone who parks in front of a fire hydrant is “an idiot who should be ticketed and towed” but stipulated that the mosque should not be blamed for the mistake of one individual.
The tone of Tuesday’s meeting escalated during the public recognition portion.
At the close of Simmons-Falluca’s comments, she held up a photograph which she said showed Councilwoman Murphy dressed “in the garment of a Muslim.” Simmons-Falluca said the image “rattled her to no end” before demanding that Murphy step down from the Council, claiming she was “in conflict of interest” and that she “clearly is not working for all taxpayers.”
Anzaldi came to the defense of his council colleague, stating that he wears a yarmulke whenever he attends a Jewish funeral or removes his shoes if it is customary when entering a particular church.
“That’s just respect for the house of worship,” Anzaldi said. “So, if a member of public life wears something to show respect for that religion, that’s what America’s about. Freedom of religion is such an important thing for all of us.”
Murphy, a Catholic, said she covered her head “out of respect” for the mosque.
“I am concerned as a resident and father of four kids by the nature of some of the commentary,” said Mustafa. “Given the rhetoric out there by political candidates, it’s not easy being a Muslim nowadays.”
He said Murphy’s decision to wear a head cover at the mosque’s grand opening was “the respectful thing” to do. “To call that anything other than a nice gesture, or to intimate that has anything to do with a bad intention, tells me a lot about the people that we’re dealing with,” he continued. “I leave this dais thinking less of our City. I know it impacts people but this is a small issue I hope our City can overcome.”
Councilman Bill Gibson, who lives near the mosque, said he and Mustafa had a positive meeting on Sunday and referred to him as “a gentleman.” The retired City police officer said the Council will work together with the Islamic center and Richfield section residents to resolve the issue.
“We need to have cooperation for peoples’ right to worship,” Councilman Steve Hatala said. “However, we have to know that quality of life and respect for peoples’ properties are equally as important. I haven’t gotten any feeling that the leadership of the new house of worship is not looking to cooperate or trying to impede the quality of life of residents. Time will tell as that unfolds.”
Gibson echoed Simmons-Falluca’s frustration with the City’s delay in striping Pershing Road. Had the lines been placed on the street on time and before the final days of Ramadan, Gibson believes Tuesday night’s meeting might not have been marred with charged remarks.
“Anytime we start something new it’s difficult to think of every contingency,” Kolodziej said. “You learn from mistakes and improve as you move along. And I believe that’s going to be the case here.”
Villano said the striping will be applied no later than the beginning of next week and vowed it will be in place at Springdale Road, Rosedale Avenue and in front of the fire hydrants before the Council’s July 19 meeting.
To further improve the situation, officials are exploring the possibility of mosque parishioners parking their vehicles on Clifton Avenue and a neighboring bank which border the rear of the property.
Omar Awad, president of the ICPC, said the Clifton congregation is comforted to worship in “a town that respects diversity.” He repeated several times on Tuesday that the center will “do whatever it takes” to preserve the neighborhood’s “tranquility.”
When the ICPC announced its entry into Clifton, Mustafa said the group was “very thankful” because it is “much easier” to be Muslim in Clifton than in many other places. “But, I’m starting to wonder if that’s true, given the reaction to parking issues and ascribing a parking issue with something that has to do with the [Mustlim] faith,” he said.
The Islamic center acquired the Pershing Road property for $3.5 million in April from the reformed church, whose membership began a steady decline over the last two decades. The Muslim organization said it purchased the property due to a need for additional space because its Paterson mosque could no longer keep up with its growing congregation.
This council sounds similar to the Twin Falls, Idaho council that demeaned and scolded residents who wanted answers on the rape of a 5-year old girl by Muslim refugees. And these are exactly the reasons cities reject mosque proposals only to have the Dept. of Jihad force them on citizens.
Video on the parking problem here.
One resident sees the duplicity of elected officials in the town and questions their ability to remain impartial. via: Councilwoman’s headscarf becomes issue in Clifton – Towns – NorthJersey.com
Resident Mary Fran Fallucca complained to the City Council about a massive spillover of cars onto the streets surrounding the Islamic Center of Passaic County on Pershing Road. She said that Murphy could not be impartial because of her apparent devotion to the Muslim faith.
“In my opinion, you should step down from this council because you are in conflict of interest,” Fallucca said, flashing a photo of the councilwoman wearing a gray headscarf. “You clearly aren’t working for all taxpayers.”
Fallucca on Wednesday said her comments had been twisted to seem as though she were anti-Muslim. “They’re trying to nail me, ‘I’m not liking these people,’x” she said. “That has nothing to do with it.”
She also maintained that Murphy should not be involved in any future meetings between mosque leaders and the city or in any decisions that would affect the house of worship.
“She has way too much loyalty to the mosque,” Fallucca said. “You also have to have a loyalty to the taxpayers, and I’m not seeing it.”While no clear solution emerged on Tuesday to the parking problem around the mosque, officials said they expected to see a good deal of relief with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which concluded on Tuesday.
Even so, Councilman Peter Eagler suggested a meeting between the neighborhood and the mosque – a recommendation first advanced by the Rev. Mike Weber of the United Reformed Church, who stayed for the meeting after delivering its invocation.
It will be more than just Ramadan. Does anyone think this hijab-wearing councilwoman will dare challenge anyone at the mosque? The entire council sounds impotent, defending the mosque only.
Councilman Peter Eagler in particular. Why should the neighborhood have to clean up the mess that the city allowed to arise and continue to fester? Why aren’t city officials enforcing the laws and ordinances that everyone else in the city have to abide by? Why aren’t the police ticketing and towing cars? This is exactly why there are zoning laws. But Muslims seem to be exempt from such laws.
If you live in the area, let your elected officials know.
Mayor and Council
Mayor James Anzaldi | firstname.lastname@example.org
900 Clifton Avenue
Clifton, NJ 07013 (973) 470-5757
Councilman Peter C. Eagler | email@example.com
Councilman William Gibson | firstname.lastname@example.org
Councilman Raymond Grabowski | email@example.com
Councilman Steven Hatala, Jr. | firstname.lastname@example.org
Councilman Joseph C. Kolodziej | email@example.com
Councilwoman Lauren E. Murphy | firstname.lastname@example.org