TEMECULA (CBS) — Final plans for a 25,000-square-foot mosque in Temecula that’s stirred debate over its size and symbolism are expected to be approved Tuesday by the Temecula Planning Commission.
Commission staff recommended last Wednesday that, as long as certain conditions are met, the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley should be granted a conditional use permit to construct the two-story edifice on a 4.3-acre lot at Nicholas Road and Calle Colibri.
The five-member commission will consider the recommendation during its regular meeting tonight at 6. The commission is the final authority on the matter — unless there is an appeal, at which point the City Council would also weigh in, according to a city clerk.
Opponents could also file a lawsuit.
The mosque would be built in two phases over the next several years, with the first phase encompassing a prayer hall, restrooms, a storage area and a 90-space parking lot, utilizing around 4,000 square feet.
The second phase would add another story to the building, using roughly 21,000 square feet — making the structure about 40-feet high — with classrooms, offices and a recreational facility.
The mosque would have two minarets and a traditional chrome-colored dome, according to planning commission documents.
City staffers said the Islamic center has agreed to make concessions on the configuration of the property following a traffic mitigation study.
One of the main necessities is a two-way left turn lane on the eastern approach to the mosque, from Nicolas Road.
The project, which has been in the works for more than two years, would be located in a lightly populated area, adjacent to two churches, according to documents.
Staffers said that, even though prayer services would start at 5:30 a.m. and run intermittently throughout the day, there shouldn’t be any major inconvenience to nearby residents.
More than 30 people signed a petition during the summer expressing opposition to the mosque, and area residents have aired their concerns in emails and letters to city council members, which were included in the planning commission report.
Among the opponents is Pastor Bill Rench, who ministers at Calvary Baptist Church, which would abut the mosque property on a cul-de-sac.
In a letter to the city, Rench said the teachings of Islam pose a sharp philosophical contrast to the beliefs of his congregation.
“We have members of our church who have come from predominately Muslim countries and have lived under the repressions and persecutions put upon them only because they were Christians,” the pastor wrote.
He also said any future expansion plans the church might have would be dashed by the presence of the Islamic center.
Residents Bill and Joanie Hanson voiced opposition to the mosque in an email to Councilman Chuck Washington, acknowledging that some Muslims are “peaceful people.”
“But the mosques are breeding grounds for the militant,” they said. “Please do not allow the building of a mosque in Temecula.”
Other opponents compared the issue to the heated controversy over the Cordoba House’s “Ground Zero Mosque,” proposed two blocks from where terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center.
Imam Mahmoud Harmoush told reporters in August that his congregation of 150-plus families needs a larger facility because it has outgrown the 8,000-square-foot building now in use on Rio Nedo Avenue.
Harmoush, who also supports building the Ground Zero mosque, argued that the matter turns on the U.S. Constitution’s first amendment guarantee of religious liberty.
“If somebody just doesn’t like Islam or Muslims, we try to deal with it through education,” Harmoush said. “We should have tolerance and respect for one another. If people have a certain conviction or belief, what can we do? We can’t force them to believe something. We can only teach about Islam: to live respectfully and peacefully.”
(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)