By Eileen Gallagher
A packed house and several public comment sign-up sheets foreshadowed a long Wednesday night for the zoning board.
At issue was the application of the Upper Westchester Muslim Society for a Special Use Permit to build a mosque at 130 Pines Bridge Road. According to Jennifer Gray, town counsel, the UWMS needs planning board permits as well.
The zoning board members, namely Gerry Golub, Anthony Giardina, Harvey Boneparth, Howard Dubs, and chairman Kenneth Cooper, listened as attorney Michael Zarin spoke on behalf of UWMS, delineating project changes from the draft to the final environmental impact statements (DEIS and FEIS, respectively).
According to Zarin, they have reduced proposed onsite parking, doubled landscaping setbacks, and increased the number of plantings on the gorunds. They also plan to cap the number of people attending high holy days by issuing tickets to their members. He concluded by requesting that the board close the public hearing.
Hussein Elzoghby of the UWMS Board of Trustees described the current warehouse type facility in Thornwood currently serving as the house of worship for the community, and how funds were collected in 2004 to purchase the property in question on Pines Bridge Road. He stressed that the project “will meet a real need for our community” for worship, prayer space, and an Islamic school. It is his hope that “our house of worship will stand beside the other houses of worship in New Castle.”
Members on both sides of the project then took turns pleading their case before the board. While Gray had to remind two of the speakers to “keep comments with respect to the project,” one resident apologized for “inappropriate comments from residents.” He continued, “We welcome you into our community, but we do not welcome your development.”
The majority of the objections were from residents of the neighboring area, especially those of the Stillwater Lake Homeowners Association. Citing increased traffic, potential noise, environmental impacts from removing large numbers of trees, and stormwater runoff, residents reiterated their belief that the project is inappropriate for the area. In addition, those who wished to have the public hearing kept open until the next meeting of the board in September pointed out that many people are away for the summer, and are unable to appear or properly prepare their objections to what was submitted in the application.
Members of UWMS, as well as some New Castle residents, spoke in favor of the mosque. The chairman of the UWMS Board of Trustees, Ali Jarved, pleaded with the board, “Please give us a chance, we will be good neighbors.”
After deliberations, all but one of the zoning board members voted to keep the public hearing extended until the September meeting on Monday, September 22, with Boneparth dissenting.