Lilburn approves mosque

LILBURN -- Before an overflowing crowd of angry residents, Lilburn wrote another chapter in one of the most controversial issues in its history by reversing two previous decisions and approving the construction of a Muslim mosque within its city limits.

In recent months, Dar-E-Abbas had filed suit against the city following earlier rulings, and there also was the possibility of intervention by the U.S. Justice Department.

"The litigation and possible intervention by the Department of Justice had a tremendous effect," said Doug Dillard, lead attorney for the applicant. Dillard added that if the issue had been only about land use, and not religion, that "we would have been approved years ago."

"I liken this to a back-door deal," said Angel Alonso, a spokesman for the group opposing the mosque. "The Council should have listened to the people ... we are going to take this matter up with the Department of Justice and the Governor's Office."

The property was rezoned from Neighborhood Business (C-1) and Single Family Residential (R-100) to Neighborhood Business Zoning District (C-1). Plans include a 20,000-square-foot mosque and a house for the Imam, the holy person and prayer leader. It includes no cemetery and no gym.

Mayor Diana Preston's property, subject of the first rezoning request, was not involved in this application.

Previous amendments in the rezoning called for having a 50-foot buffer, aiming all lighting into the property, complying with the noise ordinance, and using proper sewage disposal.

Monday night's amendments called for the hours of operation to be between 12 noon and 12 midnight, allowing for additional time during the seven Muslim religious days. Other conditions include doing a hydraulic study, having an architect's rendering made, and having uniformed volunteers to direct traffic during Friday night worship service.

"This would allow them to fully exercise practices during their religious year," said Dillard.

"This is wrong in many ways ... all that traffic is coming down my street ... Hood Road," said Alonso. "There is no traffic light on Hood Road."

Resident spokesmen said the opposition was not about religious discrimination, but about land use. Other complaints included hours of operation and noise.

Melissa Baxter who owns a business in the city, said the rezoning is not a proper use of the land. "This is not a part of the comprehensive plan it's not going to bring in the businesses we want," she said. "If we allow this, it will allow others to come in."

Dillard added that the group's proposal was consistent with the land-use plan.

In other business, the Council also approved an interim agreement with Gwinnett County to receive $372,136 for delivery of services, such as police and road work.