An old Methodist church will soon house Muslim worshipers in Brooklyn Park, despite opposition from neighbors who expressed concern over traffic and parking.

City leaders approved the Brooklyn Park Islamic Center’s site plan during a crowded meeting Monday night that drew nearly 100 people to City Hall and prompted many to sound off on the project before the vote.

Members of the Muslim community described a yearslong search for the right property and their hope to make this one home, while neighbors voiced worries about how the anticipated influx of cars would disrupt the quiet rhythms of their residential area.

Some from the Brooklyn Park Islamic Center explained how daily prayers work, hoping to put mosque attendance in context. Currently, as many as 80 members meet in the city’s Community Activity Center for Friday prayers.

“I hope that one day hundreds of people come, but right now the community is small,” said Nausheena Hussain, who is a member of the city’s Charter Commission. “We want to be part of that neighborhood as well.”

Traffic concerns

Meanwhile, neighbors pleaded with city officials to oppose the location of the proposed mosque, which residents said cannot accommodate traffic from daily prayers and the center’s other gatherings.

“I’m tired of this being turned into a prejudicial issue. This has nothing to do with religion,” said resident Scott McGraw. “There are no through streets. Every single car has to pass just about every house in this community.”

Neighbors also questioned the city’s efforts to notify area residents of the proposed project and balked at its traffic impact analysis.

“There are better places that can accommodate them than a neighborhood with a dead end,” said Orester Hollie, who lives in the area and greeted neighbors at the doors of City Hall. “They want to push this on us.”

The 6.4-acre property at 2100 93rd Way N. abuts Willowstone Park and for decades was used by a church congregation. Most recently, the building had housed a preschool, which closed Sept. 1.

Before the meeting, Mayor Jeff Lunde said he worried about the sentiments undergirding objections to the proposed mosque. He said he has seen traffic and parking used as “the code word” for unfair bias in other Twin Cities suburbs.

Proposed Muslim schools or mosques encountered opposition in nearby Blaine, St. Anthony and Plymouth before those projects were approved.

Lunde said his concerns in Brooklyn Park turned out to be unfounded. “My fears were just that — empty fears,” Lunde said. “I truly believe people aren’t worried about the mosque. They’re just worried about traffic.”

The neighbors’ concerns, some say, have been raised through each of the building’s uses.

Bill Croteau, who is selling the property to the Islamic center for $850,000, said Monday’s meeting sparked recollection of the opposition he faced when Highpointe Preschool and Child Care moved into the building.

“It was almost like déjà vu,” Croteau said.

One dissenting vote

Residents on both sides of the issue testified deep into the night, anxious to sway the vote.

City leaders voted 5-1 to approve the plan, with Council Member Rich Gates abstaining, citing a personal relationship with the current landowner. Some neighbors threw their hands up in frustration at the outcome, with one saying “don’t clap” when snippets of applause broke out nearby.

Council Member Mark Mata cast the dissenting vote, saying the mosque didn’t work at the proposed location “geography-wise.”

“This is one of those situations where I think we get told up here we don’t have a choice,” Mata said. “I personally disagree.”

Lunde called the Brooklyn Park Islamic Center a “perfect match” for the tight-knit neighborhood.

Members of the center plan to spruce up the building in the coming months, turning the preschool back into a place of worship. They say they want to build a relationship with the homeowners nearby.

“The underlying thing is somewhat a fear of the unknown, which we understand,” said Syed Husain, a founding member of the center. “Hopefully, we can have a good relationship with everyone.”