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Case for Norwalk Mosque: It's Within Regulations

This story was updated 12:04 p.m.

NORWALK, Conn. – Although the minaret of the mosque proposed for Fillow Street would tower over its Norwalk neighborhood, the house of worship would be no different from others in the city, according to the lawyer for the Al Madany Islamic Center.

Many churches include community halls, classrooms and gymnasiums, lawyer John Fallon said at last week's Zoning Commission meeting. They have special events and High Holy days that increase attendance, filling churches beyond capacity and creating parking challenges. They exist in residential neighborhoods all over Norwalk.

The matter of the proposed mosque will be continued in the second of two hearings April 18 in Concert Hall. A meeting was planned for Wednesday evening but the hearing has been postponed as Concert Hall was not available.

Attorney Mark Grenier of DePanfils and Vallerie will rebut Fallon's presentation at the April 18 hearing. Fallon will counter that rebuttal, and the public will again be allowed to speak.

At issue is a 27,000-square-foot facility that includes six classrooms, a library, a community room and a gymnasium/multipurpose room in addition to the prayer hall, which is under a dome. The minaret is about 90 feet tall and contains a staircase to the second floor, according to architect Syed Ali.

"It's usable," he said. "It's not just for ceremonial use. It serves for a space, and it's a traditional design for a mosque to have."

Plans for the property include 350 trees, bushes and plants. Although it is designed with a phase one and a phase two, current plans call for it to be built all at once.

The "little red house" currently on the property would remain and would be used for office space. It might become a parsonage, Fallon said.

The proposal fits with the neighborhood, which already diverse, with schools, churches and municipal recreation in the vicinity, he said.

There are 100 families in the Al Madany Islamic Center, which has been in existence since 1999. The prayer hall can seat more than 400 people, prompting one commission member to ask why the proposed mosque is so big.

"We're no different, I think, than any other house of worship which seeks to establish a facility that will service the needs of our congregation decades and decades and decades to come," Fallon said. "That means that we want to make sure we have facilities that are optimized to deal with our special High Holy Days. We also want to make sure we have facilities that can deal with a special event like a funeral. That's no different than what you see anywhere across the city of Norwalk or the state of Connecticut."

One commission member wondered whether the seating specified allowed for the style of worship, which includes people kneeling on the floor. Fallon said the seating capacity was derived from fire department regulations.

There was also a question about the potential use of the gymnasium for worship if the mosque became "wildly popular." Fallon said that would never happen and suggested the commission make it a condition of approval. He said the gymnasium could not be rented out for functions, as plans do not include an industrial kitchen.

Nine mosques are located with the 25 miles of the proposed Fillow Street location. "This is not a destination mosque," Fallon said.

No blasting is proposed or required in the construction. The congregation has agreed not to do Islamic calls to prayer, which would disturb the neighborhood five times a day.

The nonprofit Islamic Center spent $30,000 on a traffic study. Michael Gallante measured the traffic from the center's current services and compared them with St. Matthew Church on Scribner Avenue, near the proposed mosque. An average of four accidents a year occur in the vicinity, none of them major.

The Department of Public Works, the Water Pollution Control Authority, the Conservation Commission and the fire marshal have approved the plans, Fallon said. All of the zoning regulations have been met.

Zoning regulations and precedents "establish legally a strong presumption that such places of worship are compatible and appropriate and positive in residential neighborhoods," Fallon said.

"The presumption that is contained your regulations I think is confirmed by the actual past and ongoing experience in the city of Norwalk that such places of worship are compatible, appropriate, and positively contributing in the context of residentially zoned areas."

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