City officials on Friday quietly scrubbed a controversial Sheepshead Bay mosque, which had already been the subject of months of review and protests, and ordered another probe of the project.
The Department of Buildings had actually approved the design of the Islamic community center on Voorhies Road on Wednesday, allowing property owner Allowey Ahmed to begin construction, but two days later, the same agency pulled support for the as-of-right project and will now subject it to another exhaustive review.
Ahmed believes the city simply caved in to pressure from a handful of mosque opponents on the block between E. 28th and E. 29th streets.
“It’s only common sense to assume that,” he explained. “We lowered our plan from four floors to three out of deference to our neighbors. And now everything is on hold again.”
The city didn’t give Ahmed any reason for the delay, except to say that the entire plan has to be reviewed again for “anywhere from one to five months,” Ahmed was told.
The delay felt to Ahmed and others like a back-room deal, especially since neighborhood political leaders are supporting the city’s stunning turnaround.
State Sen. Carl Kruger (D–Mill Basin) said the second review is necessary because of the divisive feelings surrounding the mosque project.
“Whenever the [Department of Buildings] knows that something is controversial, they don’t leave it up to one plan examiner,” said Kruger. “They want a fresh set of eyes to look at it, like an integrity check.
“The proponents of this mosque should be happy [with the second review],” he said. “After this, nobody is going to be able to go to them once they started work and say, ‘This is not appropriate.’ ”
But a Department of Buildings spokeswoman denied Kruger’s interpretation.
“We are asking the applicant to clarify some issues on the plans which can easily be rectified,” said spokeswoman Carly Sullivan, specifically saying that Ahmed must “clarify the occupancy of the first floor to determine if a ‘place of assembly’ permit is required.
“Once the issues are addressed, [construction] permits can be issued,” she said.
Sullivan denied allegations that everything was put on hold because the mosque is controversial.
“Those allegations are completely untrue,” she said. “Additional reviews by the department are common and can be critical to ensuring submitted documents comply with all applicable laws. In fact, in 2009, the department performed more than 1,000 audits of applications filed in Brooklyn.”
Accepted or denied, according to the new plans, the building will be the same height as originally proposed, but the 10 feet originally reserved for the fourth floor will now be dispersed among the remaining three. The mosque will be on the first two floors with the third reserved for classroom space. No on-site parking is proposed.
Once built, the mosque will be able to accommodate up to 120 worshippers, but Ahmed said less than 20 will be coming to worship on a daily basis.
The mosque’s construction has sparked a fire storm of controversy, with at least three protests on the project being held in recent months.
Opponents of the mosque — led by the civic group Bay People — claim that the community center will create traffic and parking nightmares for the neighborhood.
But these claims are often overshadowed by the anti-Islamic sentiment that erupts at the protests, where slogans “Islam not welcome here,” “New York is not Islamabad” and “Do not forget 9-11!” are commonly seen and heard.
Other protestors claim the Muslim American Society, the group which will oversee activities in the mosque once it is built, has ties to Islamic extremism, although there has been no proof provided.
Despite the sudden setback, Ahmed said he has “faith in the system.”
“We believe that freedom of religion will prevail,” he said. “But [the city] shouldn’t backpedal. Our leaders should be at the forefront of guaranteeing our religious freedom.”