In little more than one hour, the San Joaquin County Planning Commission plucked Farooqia Islamic Center from the dim realm of unrealized plans by giving its seal of approval Thursday to the building of an Islamic school off South Lower Sacramento Road.
Construction of the school could begin as early as this year, officials say.
To project leaders, the 3-1 ruling means the end nearly 15 years of planning and preparation for the first school of its kind in the Lodi area.
"I'm ecstatic that the commissioners were so unbiased and thoughtful about it," said Taj Khan, the project leader.
The decision came less than one week after the news that Mohammad Adil Khan, previous forerunner of the Farooqia project, would be deported to his native Pakistan with his son, Mohammad Hassan Adil, on grounds of immigration violation.
Taj Khan and Sacramento attorney Steven Belzer went into Thursday's meeting set to ask for a one-month postponement of a planning commission vote.
"We wanted to make sure this storm, passing over Lodi, would blow over," Taj Khan told the commission.
The continuance would have extended discussion of the project, which has been ongoing, at the commission level, since December.
Commissioners responded that they were prepared to vote on the matter, and would do so, that night.
"This is a land use decision," Commissioner Sandra Carter said. "The request for continuance is not land-related and I think we ought to go ahead."
Newly appointed commissioner Elizabeth Blanchard abstained from voting, since she was not present at any of the other public presentations regarding the Farooqia project.
The Islamic Center plans to build a kindergarten to fourth-grade school for about 50 students, starting with a 1,600-square-foot worship tent and an 8,600-square-foot school. During phase two of construction, a main hall, able to accommodate up to 400 worshipers, will be built.
The final vote followed a lengthy discussion mainly between Chairman Pat Stockar, who supported it, and Commissioner Stan Morri, who claimed it would generate too much traffic on Lower Sacramento Road.
Cars entering the center from the north would be forbidden to turn left from Lower Sacramento by double yellow lines on the road. Ignoring them, Morri said, could mean a ticket -- or worse.
"I just don't want the blood of somebody on my hands," Morri said.
Other commissioners expressed their concern that large crowds on the Farooqia property, which was originally designated as agricultural land, would be an intrusion on the lifestyles of neighboring houses and nearby farms.
But Stockar said he felt Farooqia leaders had done a good job of talking to neighbors and nearby business owners about their worries.
"They've made their best effort in respect with how they're going to fit in that neighborhood," Stockar said. "I think I can support this application."
Morri was the sole "no" vote when the tally was taken.
Taj Khan said he hoped to break ground on the first building before the end of the year. He had no estimate of how much the project would cost, but said leaders would have to do much fundraising to pay for it.
After the decision, Stockton attorney Howard Seligman, who represents families in the area, said he was opposed to the decision and would consult with his clients to see if they wanted to file an appeal by the Aug. 1 deadline.
Meanwhile, members of the Lodi Muslim Mosque, some of whom are embroiled in a lawsuit with Farooqia over misuse of mosque money, said they are happy to hear the final decision.
"I've got no argument," said Mosque President Mohammad Shoaib, an outspoken critic of Adil Khan. "I'm happy with it -- I support the mosque and I support the school."
Farooqia leaders have set no official timelines for the completion of the project, but have committed to beginning the main building within the next three years.
Contact reporter Sara Cardine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: San Joaquin County Commissioner Elizabeth Blanchard was appointed to the position by the County Board of Supervisors on July 5, replacing Larry Solari. An earlier version of the story contained incorrect information.