Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Clash over proposed Lino Lakes development with mosque leads to suggested development moratorium

a rendering of a mosque
A rendering of the mosque that is part of the proposed Madinah Lakes development in Lino Lakes.
Courtesy of Faraaz Yussuf

The Lino Lakes City Council is considering a moratorium on land development after a 156-acre proposal, including a mosque, divided residents.

The council met Monday night for a special work session that was closed to public comment — despite this, hundreds of residents showed up, both in support and opposition of the development, dubbed Madinah Lakes.

Faraaz Yussuf is the president of Zikar Holdings, the company proposing to develop an old sod farm off of Main Street into a mix of residential housing and businesses, centered around a mosque. Yussuf joined MPR News guest host Emily Bright.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] EMILY BRIGHT: We go now to the town of Lino Lakes, a northern suburb of the Twin Cities where the city council is considering a moratorium on land development after a 156-acre proposal including a mosque divided residents. The council met last night for a special work session that was closed to public comment. Despite this, over 200 residents showed up, both in support and opposition of the development dubbed Madinah Lakes. Faraaz Yussuf is the president of Zikar Holdings, the company proposing to develop an old sod farm off of main street into a mix of residential housing and businesses centered around a mosque.

Faraaz joins us now. Welcome.

FARAAZ YUSSUF: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

EMILY BRIGHT: Thank you for being here. How did you feel last night's meeting went?

FARAAZ YUSSUF: Last night's meeting was unfortunate. We walked into it knowing that this is probably the direction it was going to head in. But part of us hoped that the city council would do the right thing and not move forward with moratorium discussions. But unfortunately, that was not the case.

EMILY BRIGHT: Do you feel that the public comment portion might impact whether the moratorium will go into effect?

FARAAZ YUSSUF: I think it will. I think the city council needs to hear about the implications of what a moratorium would result in. So we're hoping that future public comment sessions will deter them. But it seems like city council has made up their minds.

EMILY BRIGHT: OK. Well, let's step back a moment and get some context on this proposed project. It's a large one. Tell me about it.

FARAAZ YUSSUF: Sure. It is 156 acres, where we've tried to encompass a full life cycle of home ownership-- apartments, townhomes, single-family homes of all sizes, a senior condo facility, along with a commercial component, which will have restaurants, coffee shops, a grocery store, a daycare facility, and a banquet facility that's open to all of Lino Lakes and the greater community. And a portion-- about 10 acres of the 156 acres-- would be set aside for a mosque facility as well. So it is-- it's a huge development.

It'll be probably one of the larger developments in Lino Lakes. It's supposed to be encompassing and inviting of all faiths and all backgrounds.

EMILY BRIGHT: Sure. So what's the current timeline for the project, and how might this moratorium affect that? [LAUGHS]

FARAAZ YUSSUF: Sure. Yeah. That's a great question. So our application has been submitted with the city and deemed complete, so that does start the statute for a review through the different boards. Our intent and our hope was to start construction at the tail end of 2025. Now, with this proposed moratorium, that would obviously put probably a one-year hold on any sort of development just in this portion of Lino Lakes.

EMILY BRIGHT: OK. So the people opposed to the Madinah Lakes development have been pretty vocal about their opposition. What reasons have you heard in previous meetings?

FARAAZ YUSSUF: So in previous meetings, a lot of the opposition has been around-- vocally, at least-- has been around infrastructure-- water issues, utilities, et cetera. In private Facebook groups and social media, you'll see a lot of racism and bigotry when it comes to Muslim-focused development. When you talk about infrastructure issues, we have addressed those in terms of-- the water capacity is still there. When we look at other proposed developments that have occurred in this area, they've been twice as densely populated, and that hasn't been an issue.

When a proposal went up for development just north of where we are which is larger and more densely populated, infrastructure and water was not an issue. But when Zikar Holdings came forward with a Muslim-friendly development, that's when things kind of took a turn for the south. And moratorium discussions became more prevalent because of that.

EMILY BRIGHT: OK. So as for water or environmental issues, sounds like you've addressed those concerns in your project?

FARAAZ YUSSUF: We have addressed those concerns. And there was an EAW environmental assessment that was done a year and a half ago that didn't show any negative impacts. And so when it comes to infrastructure, utilities, those are all a moot point at this time.

EMILY BRIGHT: OK. So what about those in favor of this project? What are you hearing?

FARAAZ YUSSUF: So we're hearing a lot of support when it comes to increased diversity, increase of more options available to Lino Lakes residents when it comes to options in housing, when it comes to options in commercial-- restaurants and different opportunities from that perspective. Lino Lakes, for the most part, has been kind of a slower-growing suburb of Minneapolis. And I think those that support it are welcoming that diversity, that inclusiveness, and the growth that Lino Lakes is expecting to see.

EMILY BRIGHT: Is there a large Muslim population in the area?

FARAAZ YUSSUF: In Lino Lakes, per se, no. Blaine has a large Muslim population. And as Blaine is kind of reaching its capacity, Lino Lakes is kind of the natural progression as to where folks are looking to move.

EMILY BRIGHT: OK. So just kind of keep stepping out the next suburb out so that-- is that what--

FARAAZ YUSSUF: Exactly.

EMILY BRIGHT: --drew you to Lino Lakes?

FARAAZ YUSSUF: Yeah, exactly.

EMILY BRIGHT: So your proposed development would be on an old sod farm. What challenges do you expect in developing that land?

FARAAZ YUSSUF: Nothing that's out of the ordinary. Much of Lino Lakes used to be a sod farm. There's areas in Blaine and Maple Grove that were sod farms as well. There are some soil challenges. It all comes as part of our land development and soil and things that need to be imported to make it sustainable and to make it a great area to build upon. So it's nothing unusual. It's nothing that's unheard of in the development industry.

There'll be some mitigation that needs to happen. But it's all kind of the nature of how developments occur as we kind of spread out into the third-ring suburbs around the Twin Cities.

EMILY BRIGHT: Yeah. This is a really interesting conversation. And I'm sure there will be more conversations going forward. Do you expect you might need to make significant changes to the original plans for the development to happen? And if so, what would you compromise or change?

FARAAZ YUSSUF: Sure. We expect there to be give and take. That's usually how developments happen and how conversations with a city occur. Now, this moratorium bypasses all of that, right?

EMILY BRIGHT: Right.

FARAAZ YUSSUF: As developers, in our proposal, all we were asking for is to be treated like every other developer, to follow the processes and rules that are laid out, and to stick to that. And unfortunately, in our case, it seems that all is going to get bypassed, and we're going to get treated differently. And the moratorium discussion really comes out of let's just kick the bucket down the road so we don't have to address some of the opposition that we're maybe trying to mask right now.

EMILY BRIGHT: Well, it might seem like an obvious question, but what would you like to see happen next?

FARAAZ YUSSUF: [LAUGHS]

EMILY BRIGHT: [LAUGHS]

FARAAZ YUSSUF: That's a great question. In an ideal world, I would hope that the city council would do the right thing and choose to table the moratorium discussion and, ultimately, let our proposal be evaluated on the merits of our proposal, ignorant of maybe how residents might feel about a mosque being built. I think if you look at just the merits of our proposal, it's a strong proposal. It encapsulates what the 2025 development plan is for this parcel of land. Utilities are available where they need to be to make this happen.

So in an ideal world, we just hope to be evaluated on the merits of our proposal. And there will be some give and take, which we're willing to do. But ultimately-- to continue to move forward and follow through with the development that's proposed.

EMILY BRIGHT: Absolutely. Well, Faraaz, thank you for your time. I wish you well.

FARAAZ YUSSUF: Thank you so much. I appreciate your time as well.

EMILY BRIGHT: Faraaz Yussuf is the developer of Madinah Lakes, a proposed residential complex including a mosque in Lino Lakes. We reached out to the city of Lino Lakes for comments but did not receive a response in time for this segment.

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