With Monday night's approval, the 2,500 sq. ft. mosque on Rucker Road will be transformed into a 7,900 sq. ft. worship and activity center.
In May 2010, city council voted against the expansion based on an agreement the mosque had, reportedly, made in 1998 with surrounding neighborhoods to not try to expand. Residents were and still are concerned that the center will cause an increase in traffic and will cause noise and light pollution.
After the denial, the mosque's representatives issued a lawsuit against the city, saying they had been "unreasonably" limited and discriminated against based on their religion.
But after several court rulings and appeals, it was decided on the federal level that the city must consider the project again.
Councilman Mike Kennedy made the motion to approve the smaller-scale application with 25 conditions but said he was doing it “reluctantly.”
Kennedy agreed with residents from the nearby Fairfax Subdivision, who said it seemed the center had always planned for continued growth, even though they promised not to expand the existing structure.
“I have no doubt that has been the ICNF's strategy since 1998,” he said.
Kennedy said the buildings being proposed by the center are “not appropriate for this piece of property,” which is in an area predominantly surrounded by houses and neighborhoods.
Kennedy said when his church's membership began to grow, the church relocated to a property that could handle the expansion.
“I would say that's probably the way every church and synagogue in Alpharetta has evolved over the years,” he said. “If you want to be treated like everyone else, then act like everyone else.”
Councilman Michael Cross said the city has offered to help the center find a suitable property for its expansion, but Islamic law says once a place of prayer and worship has been established, it cannot move.
Residents attended the meeting to speak on the application — 19 in favor and 12 opposed.
Those opposed, mostly residents of nearby neighborhoods, said they expected the center to keep its promise made 15 years ago.
Those in favor, mostly members of the worship center, said it is unfair to ask them to remain in the small, “embarrassing” building with no library or recreation center like other churches in the area have. But in the end, council members said they would approve the expansion because continuing to battle it out in court was becoming too much of a financial burden on taxpayers.
“As hard as this is for me, the city has expended a ton of money defending this, successfully,” said Councilman D.C. Aiken.
Aiken also pointed out that if the matter returns to federal court again, the city may end up being forced to allow the much larger original development plan.
Kennedy called the approval “the best bad deal we can take.”
One important condition added to the new recommendation for approval says the center cannot expand its square footage again for 15 years.