Delay by St. Anthony angers Islamic center's proponents

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 20, 2012 - 10:27 PM

City cited zoning concerns but had indicated for months that creating worship space would be OK, supporters said.

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Resident Bill Volna spoke against the Islamic center, saying he was concerned about the loss of tax revenue should a nonprofit take over such a big piece of land.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii , Star Tribune

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About two dozen supporters of a proposed Islamic center in St. Anthony told its planning commission Tuesday night that they're angry and frustrated with the city's decision to delay their plans.

"There is a need for us to find a place to come and pray. We have tried very hard to raise the funding," said Kadir Abdi, a member of the center who was one of six to speak to the commission.

Under the proposal, the Abu-Huraira Islamic Center would be located in the basement of the former Medtronic headquarters off Old Hwy. 8 The congregation of about 200 would use the 15,000-square-foot space for assembly and prayer.

Supporters say they've worked for months with city officials, who indicated the proposed use for the space was OK. But they received a letter from the city last week saying their project would be delayed while the city studies whether the current zoning would support the center's activities.

"We followed everything they told us, we followed their rules," Ferdinand Peters, an attorney representing Muslim leaders involved in the project, said before the meeting. Peters said he believes the city is discriminating against the group.

Ali Giarushi, a spokesman for the center who's helping the group buy the building, agreed with Peters. "We are American Muslims," he said. "We all work against terrorists. We love this country, and we're a part of it."

Peters said the Muslim group has a purchase agreement to buy the building and would continue to rent out the rest of it to existing tenants. Not getting city approval could threaten the deal, he said.

On March 13, the City Council approved a moratorium on issuing "conditional use permits for assemblies, meeting lodges and convention halls in the commercial and light industrial zoning districts" and wants city staff to "conduct a study regarding the regulation of assemblies, meeting lodges and convention halls in the commercial and light industrial zoning districts," according to a letter the city sent to the group last week.

St. Anthony City Manager Mark Casey said the city is not discriminating against anyone.

"Places of worship are not allowed in light industrial areas, but ... we welcome them in other parts of the city," Casey said. "There is zoning for places of worship in other parts of the city. We wanted to take the time to study the impact on the community."

Casey said the city is following the state statute that allows them 60 to 120 days to study the matter before making a decision. The city should make a decision by June, he said.

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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