County planners unanimously supported a mosque to hold 282 people before a crowd of more than 70 people Thursday night.
The San Joaquin County Planning Commission approved a use permit for the mosque called the Madina Center, which is owned by Masjid Umar Farooq.
However, it will be up to the Board of Supervisors to determine the mosque's fate after project opponent Ken Melayco said the Morada Area Association will appeal the Planning Commission's decision.
Plans call for the mosque to have a capacity of 282 people in one building, for prayer services and Sunday classes for children, on two acres on the eastern Highway 99 frontage road near Shippee Lane.
Amin Mahmood, a Stockton structural engineer who was born in Afghanistan and moved to the United States in 1978, told commissioners that the mosque will enhance the neighborhood, improve security - because it will no longer be a vacant lot - and add diversity to Morada. There are a half-dozen churches in the community, but none of them is a mosque, he said.
"This mosque will be a symbol of that diversity and tolerance," Mahmood said.
Attorney Ken Melayco, who is also a member of the Morada Area Association, said that mosque leaders plan a huge building for two acres. The mosque should be built across Highway 99 in the Stockton city limits, where full city infrastructure could be provided.
Morada association member Richard Shaffer said a full environmental impact report should be prepared before commissioners consider approving the mosque, due to traffic, noise and septic tank issues.
Melayco added his concern that the mosque would draw considerable truck traffic, saying that Muslim representatives like the frontage road and that Muslim truck drivers would see the mosque from Highway 99 and drop in. There isn't room, either on the frontage road or the mosque parking lot, for trucks.
Seligman replied that Melayco is confusing Muslims with Sikhs. Many Sikhs are truck drivers, but not Muslims, Seligman said.
Commission chairman Mike Devencenzi of Woodbridge shut down Morada Area Association member Bill Fields after Fields expressed concern that the Muslims didn't place their hands over their hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of Thursday's meeting.
Devencenzi told Fields that he will only take testimony about the mosque proposal itself and not about the Muslim culture.
Several neighbors on Shippee Lane gave their support for the mosque and anticipate that the property will no longer be subject to graffiti, garbage and other problems.
The property the mosque has its eyes on has been vacant for 11 years, according to Mahmood.
San Joaquin County has a mosque in Lodi's Eastside and one in south Stockton. Muslims also rent a building on Hammer Lane as a prayer hall, according to Taj Khan, of Lodi, who attended the Planning Commission meeting but said he is in not involved in the Morada proposal.
Why is the Morada site a good location for a mosque?
Muslims must pray in rows directly facing Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Using the polar route, Mecca is northeast of Stockton, so the mosque must be built to allow its members to pray facing the northeast. The angle is determined by the exact latitudinal and longitudinal degrees between the mosque and Mecca.
The prayer hall at the Lodi Muslim Mosque faces due north, which requires Muslims to line up at an angle slightly to the right.
The Morada site allows for the mosque to be built at the proper angle to align worshippers with Mecca.
Source: Amin Mahmood, Stockton structural engineer
Muslims had hoped to build a mosque on Lower Sacramento Road between Harney Lane and Armstrong Road, but the Board of Supervisors shot down the proposal in 2005, months after a terror investigation began in Lodi.
Supervisors said at the time their denial was not related to the FBI's investigation, which led to Lodi resident Hamid Hayat being sentenced to 24 years in federal prison after being convicted of supporting terrorists and lying to the FBI. His father, Umer Hayat, pleaded guilty for not declaring money he took on a trip to his native Pakistan.
In saying that the Morada Area Association will definitely appeal the Planning Commission's approval to the Board of Supervisors, Melayco said he's never seen the Planning Commission turn down a planning application. The appeal will cost the association $648 to file. Deadline is Dec. 29.