ST. CLOUD, Minn. - In a surprise move Monday night after nearly three hours of discussion, the Islamic Center of St. Cloud withdrew its application for a mosque development on the city's south side.
The Islamic Center of St. Cloud had requested an amendment to a planned unit development for a property at 1850 Clearwater Road. The organization wanted to build two two-unit residential dwellings, a mosque, a religious school and a community building with a gymnasium.
Abdulrashid Salad of the Islamic Center said he wanted to withdraw the application and reconsider what they are requesting.
After the request was made, Salad said he wanted to consider eliminating some of the design concepts. He said he thought he had done enough to address the neighbor's concerns but now sees that there is more that could be done.
"We'll see what we can do for them," he said.
He did not state specifically what would be changed.
About 500 people attended the two-hour public hearing on Monday, which was followed by a lengthy discussion from the City Council. Speakers raised a number of concerns about traffic and said that the development was too big for the site.
Salad's announcement to withdraw came after council members made it clear in their comments that they would not support the proposal as it was presented.
Council member Dave Masters said he was concerned about the impact the development would have on the neighborhood. He thought the development is too large for the site.
Masters lives a block from the current mosque on Fifth Avenue South and said he sees the problems with parking at that site. He said he doesn't want to approve a project that doesn't have enough parking.
"That's just setting it up for failure," he said.
Masters said he wants to know more about how many people will be using the complex so the council can have a better understanding of how many vehicles will travel to the site.
Council member George Hontos said he voted against the previously proposed housing development for the site. He also voted against the expansion of the Children's Home, which is in the neighborhood.
"Seeing how this project is as large or larger and the impact as it has, I just cannot support it," he said.
He said he suggested to the Islamic Center that they work with the Southside Boys & Girls Club to create a community facility both groups could use instead of building something similar at the Clearwater Road site.
In a sometimes tense debate, members of the large crowd would often audibly react to what speakers were saying.
Several times President Jeff Goerger asked speakers to focus on the zoning issue and not discuss religion. Numerous times he asked speakers to keep emotion out of the comments, and he cut off speakers who had gone over their time limit.
Attorney David Meyers spoke on behalf of the Islamic Center of St. Cloud. He said the organization is asking to build something that already exists in numerous places in St. Cloud. He said the education center would be similar to a Christian Sunday school, and the community building is like a church basement.
He also said the development will be built as money is raised. The hope is that by next year they would raise enough money to build the mosque, he said.
Opponents have raised concerns about traffic and have said that the site is too small for a multi-building development.
Opponents also said that the Islamic Center should have to get a new planned unit development instead of an amendment to the existing PUD, because the plan is so different from the original. The property is currently zoned for duplexes and single-family homes.
Meyers said there is not enough parking for what city ordinance requires, as noted by some opponents. But Meyers said there could be more parking space if they remove trees at the southern part of the property.
Last month, the Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of the amendment with several revisions. The commission said the city should allow only the construction of the mosque and religious school.
Initially the Islamic Center also wanted to include office space, restaurant and retail space. City staff and neighbors raised concerns about those uses, and the Islamic Center agreed to remove them.
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