Brookfield aldermen unanimously approved plans for a nearly 13,000-square-foot mosque, to the joy of Waukesha County Muslims and chagrin of opponents who sought to table the project Tuesday.
The Common Council voted 14-0 Tuesday to grant a conditional use permit, with aldermen assuring residents the city had "thoroughly vetted" traffic and other site issues before green-lighting construction.
"We're elated," said Mushir Hassan, a Brookfield resident, physician and project leader for the mosque.
"We live in a very sophisticated, educated community that understands that they’ve worked with, lived with, and dealt with Muslims and people of all different faiths and cultures on a regular basis," Hassan said after the meeting.
The mosque will be built at 16550 W. Pheasant Dr. east of Calhoun Road on an industrially zoned street that houses a school bus company and storage unit business. It will be a second mosque for the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, which has a mosque near South 13th Street and West Layton Ave in Milwaukee.
The Islamic Society Milwaukee West has a fundraiser planned for Friday. Construction would begin in July with opening planned for spring 2013, Hassan said.
Mayor supports mosque
Mayor Steve Ponto, who voted in favor of the mosque last week as head of the city's Plan Commission, said Tuesday he believed the city had been transparent and open with its mosque review.
"I know that it's a sensitive matter for some residents," Ponto told Patch but added: "I really am confident that we will not have any problems."
Ten residents urged rejection or tabling of the mosque plans, citing concerns ranging from traffic and future expansion to terrorism and use of Sharia or Islamic law to subvert U.S. laws.
Charles Cook of Hartland asked aldermen to write conditions into the development agreement barring Muslims from exercising Sharia law over city rules and regulations.
Cook turned to face the audience.
"I just want to say thank you for you Muslim people, for coming out and trying to build this mosque. This has helped the Christians to get out of the churches and take back America," Cook said.
Residents criticize 'veiled threat'
Some residents said they didn't appreciate the "veiled threat" that a Muslim leader gave city plan commissioners at a packed public hearing last week when he said federal government civil rights officials investigate denials of mosques.
Six people urged approval, saying Muslims deserve a place to worship closer to home, just like every other religion enjoys. The city has about three dozen religious facilities.
"We have all kinds of temples," Brookfield resident Rafat Arian said. "The Sikhs have their temple, everyone has it. So why can’t the Muslims have it, too?"
A 30-minute one-way commute to attend Friday prayer services and Sunday school programs is inconvenient and unnecessary, given the purchase of land in Brookfield in 2009 and 2010, members said.
For years west-suburban Muslims have been praying together in space at Waukesha and Elmbrook Memorial Hospitals rather than driving downtown, as they searched for a site to build a mosque.
Brookfield resident Beverly Kuntzsch told aldermen she was concerned about public safety. She said the New York Police Department surveyed 100 mosques nationwide in 2007 and found substantial ties to terrorism and "Jihad."
"How will you monitor the literature or the preaching / teaching of violence that's going on in the mosques?" Kuntzsch asked.
Dan Bregant, who lives on Calhoun Road, said he had a petition of opposition from residents across the city.
Muslims say "get to know us"
After hearing opposition, several Muslims said they were ditching their prepared statements and responding to fears and criticisms expressed.
Arian said her family had welcomed neighbors and families from her children's Elmbrook schools into her house and to observe her religious celebrations. She said her neighbors grew so close that her children called them "grandparents."
"They have to get to know us," she said. "They can't just make assumptions by reading in the books and papers. It’s both ways. If I open my heart to them, then they have to do it, too.
"A mosque is a peaceful place, that’s what we need. That’s what we’ve been working for for almost 20 years now," Arian said.
Some said the Islamic Society's offer to fund an extended right-turn lane from Pheasant onto Calhoun was not enough to alleviate traffic impacts. Brookfield resident Chuck Bloom said 20 trains pass daily along double railroad tracks that cross Calhoun Road near Pheasant.
Traffic drops to service level 'F'
The city said that although the traffic "level of service" would worsen to an "F" when the mainly weekly Friday services are let out about 2 p.m., the right-turn lane would improve traffic service at morning and evening rush-hour times.
Resident Ted Gibbs noted the Islamic Society originally asked to build a 22,000-square-foot mosque and still has plans to expand to about that size. Hassan said a mosque expansion likely would not be sought until the city widens Calhoun Road (not slated for another decade) and not until fundraising would support more construction.
Aldermen Gary Mahkorn, Mark Nelson and Rick Owen said city officials had thoroughly addressed all issues. None of the other aldermen spoke.
"We did have some concerns about traffic and some other things," Mahkorn said. "And the applicants worked with us and came back with a proposal that did satisfy the concerns of our great staff."
- For more information on the mosque, see Patch's previous stories