County supervisors approved a large Muslim mosque planned for Morada after a nearly three-hour hearing on Tuesday afternoon.
The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to deny an appeal by the Morada Area Association, a homeowners group of about 600 residents. Supervisor Ken Vogel, whose district includes Morada, cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he was concerned about the increasing level of traffic on the east frontage road and nearby Morada Lane.
At the beginning of the public hearing, Vogel acknowledged that he is a member of the Morada Area Association, just like he joined local chambers of commerce, library groups and other community associations when he was elected supervisor in 2006. But Vogel said he did not attend any Morada Area Association meetings when the mosque was discussed.
The county Planning Commission approved a use permit for the Madina Center of North Stockton in December. The Morada Area Association appealed the Planning Commission's decision five days later.
"It's too large a building to build on a two-acre site," said Ken Melayco, attorney for the Morada group and a Morada resident himself.
The Morada mosque is designed to replace a rented prayer hall near Hammer and West lanes. There are also mosques on Lodi's Eastside and in south Stockton. An Islamic center is also proposed on Lower Sacramento Road, south of Harney Lane.
In its appeal of the Morada project, the Morada Area Association cited traffic, water, septic tank, quality of life, growth, air quality, aesthetics and other issues. Moradans told the board that the project should be rejected because the Planning Commission's approval didn't include requirements about fire safety and didn't prohibit a kitchen and the storage of dead bodies on the property.
Madina Mosque of North Stockton at a glanceLocation: 8606 N. Highway 99 (east frontage road), 150 feet north of Shippee Lane, Morada
Owner: Masjid Umar Farooq
Applicant: Amin Mahmood
Square feet: 13,820
Uses: Prayer hall, classroom, multipurpose hall, office
Source: San Joaquin County
Quotes"My concern is it's such a large building on such a small parcel."
- Sharon Stewart, Morada Area Association board member
"Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?
- Sadia Saisuddin, Lincoln High School junior and Muslim leader
"I have heard there will be a storage of dead bodies."
- Attorney Ken Melayco, Morada Area Association
"There will not be a morgue. There will not be any dead
- Mosque attorney Howard Seligman
Both sides questioned the validity of each other's experts and what is actually planned for the mosque.
Mosque attorney Howard Seligman denied Melayco's allegations that a kitchen or morgue are planned, or that the mosque will host special events attracting 800 people. He invited the Board of Supervisors to prohibit those uses as conditions of approval.
In his motion, Supervisor Steve Bestolarides included a provision prohibiting a kitchen at the mosque, which he said would curtail the number of people using the mosque at any one time.
Kerry Sullivan, the county's community development director, said that including a morgue would constitute a use that would require a special permit from the county. The morgue issue wasn't before the board Tuesday, Sullivan added.
Sullivan said that the county fire marshal and other inspectors will check the plans to make sure they comply with county codes when mosque officials apply for a building permit. It could turn out that the structure will be smaller than the current plans indicate, if county staff requires it, Sullivan and Seligman said.
Stockton structural engineer Amin Mahmood, the mosque applicant, told the board that the mosque will improve security, decrease crime and add diversity to Morada.
The Morada site is an ideal location for the mosque, Mahmood said, because Muslims pray in rows directly facing Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which is 19 degrees northeast of Stockton (using the polar route).
Four Shippee Lane residents who live near the mosque site submitted letters supporting the mosque, saying they will feel safer with the mosque there. Two of them spoke at Tuesday's meeting.
Melayco said after the vote that the Morada Area Association will meet to decide whether to take any legal action against the county.