NORWALK, Conn. – With signs of "Keep 127 Fillow Street Residential" planted in the area of a proposed Norwalk mosque, it's easy to see the local opinion on what might become the home of Norwalk's Muslims.
Isabelle Hargrove, a 15-year resident of the area, voiced some of her concerns about the mosque in last week's Zoning Commission meeting, starting with "the old cliché, 'If you build it they will come,'" a reference to the large number people she thinks the mosque will draw, including people who do not live in Norwalk.
Umar Munshi, who lives at 147 Fillow St., had a reply: "If you build it, they will come to get education, does anybody add that to it?" he asked.
Hargrove and Munshi were just two of the speakers in the nearly two-hour-long debate, which featured mainly supporters of the mosque. Here are some excerpts:
• Isabell Hargrove, resident of Red Oak Lane: "The contextual style of the project is really inconsistent with the neighborhood. This is a quaint New England neighborhood. What they're building is beautiful, it's gorgeous. But it just doesn't fit.
"They can't hide it from the street. You can't see St. Matthew, it's recessed. It's 26 acres. You go by the synagogue, you can barely tell it's a synagogue. It has nothing to do with hiding a religious facility, it has to do with not wanting to affect the look and the feel of our neighborhood."
• Brian Gaugh, a resident of Steppingstone Road: "Oak Hills Golf Course was turned down for a driving range several years ago because of traffic problems. A 27,000-square-foot building for 100 people sounds a little large. Maybe I'm dumb or naïve, but I think there's going to be quite a few more people coming to the place in time or right away as there chart shows.
"I'm sure they're going to be flocking to this building, that doesn't really fit into this neighborhood, with a 92-foor tower and a dome against the two-story top houses. I didn't want to live next to Walmart or a 27,000-square-foot building, and I don't think anybody in the neighborhood does, either. The traffic is going to be horrible."
• Fred Bondi, Republican Common Councilman at-large: "It's a very busy street there. You have two schools in the area plus a lot of turns and curves in the road. And I think this project, the size of it, will definitely impact the roads that are in and around that whole area. I think it will cause traffic jams. I am not in favor of it because of the fact that it will cause traffic congestion."
• Warren Pena, Democratic Common Councilman at-large: "Building this place of worship is no different than building any other. With this project comes a community center. We have a big crime issue here in Norwalk, and I think this will help create some programs and initiatives to keep our kids off the streets. I think it also gives our community the opportunity to build a better relationship with our Muslim friends in the community that contribute so much to Norwalk.
"I understand the location is somewhat of a controversy, but we have places of worship in every single neighborhood of Norwalk. I do not think this is going to endanger anyone, and I respectfully request we take a look at this project on the merits of what it is and not some of the rhetoric that comes along."
• Rabbi Ron Fish, Congregation Beth El: "As the rabbi of a congregation here I have to tell you a lot of what I heard tonight sounds very familiar. We all have problems with parking, with space. We all have challenges in terms of working within the communities where we find ourselves. I'm certain that these challenges, of which I am not an expert, can be addressed. But I am happy to say as a member of the Jewish community, I would welcome this community into our midst."
• Umar Mushi, Fairfield University student, 10-year resident of Norwalk who moved from Long Island: "A mosque has enabled me to approach any given situation with different points of view. I have grown up in this community. I have learned from the community. I have a different perspective that I look at things. This Islamic education that I gained really helps me do that.
"The Muslim youth will benefit from having this mosque, and a diverse place like Norwalk deserves a place for worship for Muslims who are privileged to be in such a community."
• Samiha Julakha, 15: "As an American Muslim, growing up here, it's a burden not to be able to practice my religion. I have learned about so many other religions, even Hinduism, so many religions intertwine with each other, but there is no actual place for worshipping in Norwalk. I am not of legal age to drive, and I want to have a place to worship where I can be close, be loving and be sincere with the community, with the Muslim community and the non-Muslim community."
• The Rev. Keith Welch, pastor of Church of the Nazarene: "I think it's very important to understand the not in my backyard syndrome, NIMBY, affects us all. I was supremely irritated at Stop & Shop where I shop every day at the parking for young mothers with infants because I didn't have an infant, and it annoyed me. So then I had an infant, and I appreciated it.
"I think we're all wired up that way, and if we're at all honest, we'll have to admit to some of that that says, 'I'm all for it but not in my backyard.' I don't think we're bad people for feeling that way, but we have to ask ourselves, 'If not in my backyard, whose? If not now, then when?' In the end every single building and every lot in Norwalk was a brand new building at some point that dramatically changed that lot. I would simply suggest let's check our hearts and see where we're coming from."
• Sahail Kudri, board member Al Madany Islamic Center: "Why is it so big? That is in the eye of the beholder. I think it's a perfect size. Why? That is based on your perspective. Compared to the quaint little red cottage the mosque is big, no doubt. But let me assure that over the past several years we have worked tirelessly with the zoning department, adjusting plans, modifying here, modifying there, redrafting to ensure that we are in compliance with all necessary regulations.
"Why do we like it? It's a beautiful location. It's tranquil, it's serene, it's spacious. Frankly, I can't imagine a better place in Norwalk to build a house of worship. What can be a better use for such a beautiful space then for a place for folks to come and praise and remember God? I know many of you agree with that because within a 1-mile radius of this property, in the same west Norwalk neighborhood, are two churches and a synagogue."
• Moina Noor: "There is a problem with traffic all over Norwalk. This seems to me to be a global issue that needs to be addressed by the city, with traffic lights and not taken into the context of this one project. Somebody made an allusion to that song, they paved paradise. Well, we are sandwiched between two condominium projects that have as many parking spaces as we'll have. While it's residential, there's a golf course up the street, there's a tennis court that I play at up the street. I think we're kind of going along with what's going on in that neighborhood.
"I know it's always painful to see things change, I get that, but I don't think we're doing anything that's not already being done in West Norwalk and I hope we all have a role to play in the traffic problem all over Norwalk."
• Joanne Horvath: "Please do not destroy this Triple A residential neighborhood with this mosque, which I believe because of its sheer magnitude will upset the harmony of this neighborhood. I think this congregation has every right to have a better place to worship, but this is not where it should be."