A proposal to build a mosque in Flushing was withdrawn this week after it came under fire from residents and members of Community Board 7 who criticized the proposal, citing violations of local zoning ordinances on parking and setbacks from neighboring properties.
But members of the Muslim congregation said that some of the opposition to their mosque on Monday night may have been fueled by outrage over the terror attacks in Paris last week by a group of violent extremists, who they insist do not reflect their religious values.
Muhammed Sheth, a member of Masjid Noor, the group that wants to build a mosque at 46-05 Parsons Blvd., said he believes that it’s a bad time to try seek public support for any project related to Islam because of the terror attack on Parisian newspaper Charlie Hebdo last week.
“The community wasn’t just rejecting this building on technical grounds. They were asking us lynching questions and Islam is being submitted to this scrutiny,” Sheth said. “It’s because a few loony people did some horrible things that people are now scared of Muslims altogether.”
Dozens of residents came to the meeting to voice their opposition to the mosque on the grounds that the application requested several waivers be made to the area’s building code laws. But some were simply unhappy about a mosque coming to the neighborhood.
“This is a very congested area,” said Grace Kelly, a Flushing resident. “Flushing Remonstrance is something we value, but this spot just doesn’t work,” she said in reference to the historic 17th-century commitment made to freedom of religion by leaders in Flushing.
Harry Coumna said the mosque should be built on the industrial part of College Point in one of the warehouses, a suggestion one board member thought was “offensive.”
“Why do you want to come to our area and do this?” Coumna said. “Do we come to your neighborhood and build stuff there? Leave our neighborhood alone.”
The proposal didn’t include any off-street parking areas, as required under zoning laws for houses of worship. Across the street from the proposed location sits St. Mary’s Nativity Church, which has a parking lot. The area is filled with an array of religious buildings.
Representatives for the mosque – Emily Simon and Jamil Coppin – asked the board to waive the zoning rules. The application called for a two-story building with a total of 2,000 square feet with a maximum of occupancy of 420 people. It also lacked side yards as required by local zoning, requiring additional waivers.
The mosque application was the first prospect hundreds of Muslims in the group had at having a consistent location for worship.
“The congregants have been forced to move from month to month. They’re looking for a permanent home,” said Simon, who is the lawyer for the group. “The community is home to many other religious houses of worship.”
The congregation, which boasts about 400 members, is made up of immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and several African countries. Since 2013, the group Masjid Noor has moved between temporary mosques, and they were hoping to establish a stable place in a part of Flushing that is home to a diverse number of places of worship.
“They were thinking all Muslims are trouble,” said Sheth, who is a member of the group. “The scrutiny to which they subjected us was very intense.”
The architect Jamil Coppin will revise the application so that all of the zoning rules will be observed.