St. Cloud Islamic Center withdraws mosque proposal before final City Council vote

Mosque meeting
The St. Cloud Islamic Center on Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, withdrew its proposal to develop a plot of land after a City Council meeting that turned contentious. Above, some of the roughly 500 people who attended the meeting.
MPR Photo/Jon Collins

The Islamic Center of St. Cloud withdrew its application for a mosque development after hours of City Council discussion at a heated meeting that drew 500 people.

As council member comments made it clear there was not support for the zoning change that would allow the project, mosque supporters pulled the proposal before the final vote.

Islamic Center of St. Cloud President Abdulrashid Salad said afterward that he realized during the hearing that revising the proposal could increase its chances of passage.

"We have to show an example of [compromise], and that will at least satisfy some of the neighbors," Salad said. "Our hope is not to just win something -- we can all be winners."

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The 9.5 acre project would have included a mosque, classrooms for students and a gymnasium, which would have been built in phases on a patch of vacant land on Clearwater Road. It would serve about 600 people, according to the planning documents.

Maps: Location of proposed St. Cloud mosque

Council member Dave Masters, who represents the area where the proposed mosque would be located, said the traffic and parking studies for the project were not detailed enough.

"Parking has been an issue for the mosque," Masters said. "I just feel like the current location is not adequate enough to deal with the size of the congregation."

Supporters of the mosque have said a new development is necessary to serve the growing Muslim community in the area.

"If we go down the path we are talking about, we will be in court sooner than later," Lewis said

Salad said whatever revised project they formulate will still be located at the same site on Clearwater Road, which the Islamic center bought in 2011.

Listen to MPR News' Tom Crann's interview with Salad.

When St. Cloud City Council President Jeff Goerger convened the hearing he warned that comments about race or religion wouldn't be tolerated.

But tensions over religion and race erupted at the meeting despite the council's efforts to restrict discussion to planning issues.

"Please try to remember that the religion of this group is not the issue tonight," Goerger said a half hour into the hearing. He was immediately interrupted by a shouting heckler who appeared to disagree.

Georger quickly cut off speakers who made religious or racial comments. Debra Anderson of Minneapolis said, "These communities become seeds of enclaves," before she was cut off by Georger.

Pastor James Alberts II of Higher Ground church tried to talk about the difficulty his own church, which is predominately African-American, has had getting planning proposals past the city council, but the president cut him off saying that the discussion should stay on topics relevant to planning like traffic.

Some local residents concerned about traffic, parking and the impact the development might have on housing values started a group called St. Cloud Citizens for Reasonable Zoning.

"I thought it was incredibly smart of the City Council -- what they did," Jeannie Knier said of the council's focus of planning issues. "I also really believe in the law, and that was what empowered this whole decision tonight."

Hamza Dudgeon, a member of the Islamic center, said during the hearing that neighbors were overestimating the traffic that would be drawn to the site.

"[At] a church you have Sunday, where everyone goes to the church," Dudgeon said. "Muslims, there's not a one specific time where they will all go to the mosque. It's not going to be an influx at any one time."

As it became clear that most council members opposed the project as proposed, council member and attorney Carol Lewis questioned whether St. Cloud was risking a lawsuit by rejecting the proposal.

"If we go down the path we are talking about, we will be in court sooner than later," Lewis said.

The Islamic Center of St. Cloud is currently located in a former Congregational church in downtown St. Cloud, which would have also stayed open had the Paradise Park been approved. The center has been active in the city since 1996.

Although the project initially included a proposal for commercial businesses at the new location, the Islamic Center of St. Cloud dropped those plans after the city planning commission temporarily tabled the proposal in August. The city planning commission signed off on the scaled back plans last month.

City staff said any new proposal from the Islamic center would need to start the city approval process again from the very beginning.