Citing concerns about noise, aesthetics and privacy for neighboring residents, the San Joaquin County Planning Commission postponed for two months a decision on whether an Islamic center should be built in south Lodi.
After a three-hour public hearing Thursday that drew an estimated 400 people to the Lodi Grape Festival grounds, Planning Commissioners requested Farooqia Islamic Center leaders to create an open-space buffer so that structures would be farther away from neighboring homes and farms.
Tensions among rival Muslim groups in Lodi were kept in control with four county sheriff's deputies and plain-clothes detectives from Lodi police monitoring activities.
Tensions became so elevated in the past year that one Islamic faction in Lodi has filed suit against another over the Islamic center proposed on Lower Sacramento Road. In the lawsuit, mosque leaders question the expenditure of mosque funds toward the Islamic center project.
Stockton attorney John Rishwain, representing the Lodi Muslim Mosque, told commissioners he could have brought 300 project opponents to the meeting, but he told mosque leaders to limit the number of attendees to alleviate tensions between the feuding factions.
Farooqia Islamic Center plans to build a 1,600-square-foot tent for worship and fundraising activities worship hall and 8,600 square feet of classroom space for 50 kindergarten through fourth-grade students on Lower Sacramento Road between Harney Lane and Armstrong Road.
The second phase would replace the tent with a 12,900-square-foot worship hall for 400 people.
Planning Commissioners deferred a decision Thursday because they were concerned about the rights of neighbors who live south of the Islamic center site.
Daniel Eytchison, who said he lives directly south of the Islamic center site -- which he called "Ground Zero" -- said 10 to 25 cars routinely park on the site on Friday nights already.
Another neighbor, Eduardo Araya, said he was concerned about privacy, security and trespassing issues a full Islamic center would generate.
"If this was my own church, I would oppose it," Araya said.
"The issue is the quality of life for people who choose to live in a rural area," said Howard Seligman, an attorney representing the Araya and Eytchison families. "My clients have no fences on their property, and they don't want any."
Other churches in rural areas between Lodi and Stockton, such as Bear Creek Community Church, have no homes nearby, Seligman added.
Meanwhile, a parade of Muslims, many of them from Stockton, told commissioners about the need for an Islamic center and school. Two residents said they must drive 160 miles per day -- two round trips from Stockton to Sacramento -- to drive their children to an Islamic school.
"They are decent, dignified people," said Lodi attorney Randy Rosá, lending support for the Islamic center leaders. "I trust them."
Rosá informed commissioners about Christians, Jews and Muslims in Lodi and Stockton banding together in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and signing a "Declaration of Peace."
Richard Jones, chief executive officer of the Lodi Boys and Girls Club and a Lodi Unified School District trustees, said that both organizations support construction of the Islamic center.
Pastors Alan Kimber of Lodi's First United Methodist Church and Ricky Himm of Christ Lutheran Church, along with Rabbi Jason Gwasdoff of Temple Israel of Stockton, stated their support as well.
Attorney Steven Belzer, representing Farooqia, told commissioners the project's supporters include Bear Creek Community, Big Valley and Lodi First Baptist churches. Lodi City Councilman Larry Hansen is also a supporter, Belzer said.
Lodi Muslim Mosque, lead by President Mohammad Shoaib, oppose county approval to build the Farooqia Islamic Center because of a feud they have with applicant Mohammad Adil Khan. Khan said for at least three years that he was the imam, or spiritual leader, of the Lodi mosque. But Shoaib maintains that Khan was never an imam in Lodi.
Khan is also one of five defendants in a lawsuit filed in March by the Lodi Muslim Mosque.
Mosque leaders allege that there has been no accounting of money generated from donations by mosque members toward the Farooqia project and how money generated from a seven-acre site the mosque previously owned on Armstrong Road has been spent.
The mosque has also filed a legal challenge on who owns the Lower Sacramento Road property, the mosque of Farooqia Islamic Center.
During the Planning Commission's 10-minute break so that Muslims attending the meeting could participate in their evening prayer, a Lodi man who identified himself only as David questioned the Islamic center for security reasons.
"We're in a global war on terror," David said. "We don't have to give them an Islamic center. 9/11 was three years ago. Most people have forgotten it. I haven't."
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.