Opponents heckle, Islamic Center of St. Cloud withdraws mosque proposal during meeting

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The Islamic Center of St. Cloud has withdrawn its proposal to build a mosque and education center in the Granite City’s south side neighborhoods. An ACT! for America leader from Minneapolis who populates Greater Minnesota tea party gatherings and blogs with anti-Muslim sentiments was among those speaking against the proposal.

Minnesota Public Radio’s Jon Collins reports in St. Cloud Islamic Center withdraws mosque proposal before final City Council vote:

The Islamic Center of St. Cloud withdrew its application for a mosque development after hours of City Council discussion at a heated meeting that drew 500 people.

As council member comments made it clear there was not support for the zoning change that would allow the project, mosque supporters pulled the proposal before the final vote.

Collins reports that many speakers couldn’t help themselves in exposing their religious biases:

When St. Cloud City Council President Jeff Goerger convened the hearing he warned that comments about race or religion wouldn’t be tolerated.

But tensions over religion and race erupted at the meeting despite the council’s efforts to restrict discussion to planning issues.

“Please try to remember that the religion of this group is not the issue tonight,” Goerger said a half hour into the hearing. He was immediately interrupted by a shouting heckler who appeared to disagree.

Although Collins doesn’t identify her as the Minneapolis Chapter Leader for anti-Muslim group Act! for American, Deborah (or Debra, as the spelling varies) Anderson was there, promoting the “Islamic enclave” meme pushed by her organization and the Central Minnesota Tea Party:

Georger quickly cut off speakers who made religious or racial comments. Debra Anderson of Minneapolis said, “These communities become seeds of enclaves,” before she was cut off by Georger.

Anderson actively promotes anti-Muslim sentiment, as Bluestem reported in Act! for America Mpls Chapter Leader distributed anti-Somali American handout in Mankato and Act! for America & Central MN Tea Party petition against St. Cloud “Islamic enclaves”.

St. Cloud Times staff writer Kari Petrie reports in Islamic Center withdraws proposal after lengthy, sometimes-tense meeting:

In a surprise move Monday night after nearly three hours of discussion, the Islamic Center of St. Cloud withdrew its application for a mosque development on the city’s south side.

The Islamic Center of St. Cloud had requested an amendment to a planned unit development for a property at 1850 Clearwater Road. The organization wanted to build two two-unit residential dwellings, a mosque, a religious school and a community building.

Abdulrashid Salad of the Islamic Center said he wanted to withdraw the application and reconsider what they are requesting.

After the request was made, Salad said he wanted to consider eliminating some of the design concepts.

He said he thought he had done enough to address the neighbors’ concerns but now sees there is more that could be done.

“We’ll see what we can do for them,” Salad said. . . .

Initially, the Islamic Center also wanted to include office space, a restaurant and retail space. City staff and neighbors raised concerns about those uses, and the Islamic Center agreed to remove them.

As the Islamic Center worked with the city, removing parts of the project and downsizing others, it became more clear that some of those objecting to the Center were doing so simply on religious and racial grounds (the Muslim community in St. Cloud is largely Somali).

While the neighborhood is zoned residential, St. Cloud’s city codes allow places of worship in residential neighborhoods. A recent editorial on the Center’s proposal noted:

Opponents, meanwhile, continue to claim that any plan violates zoning codes and will overflow streets. The reality, though, is city codes allow places of worship in residential neighborhoods under conditions set forth by the city. Plus, a city study of traffic stressed that while streets will be much busier than they are now, traffic will not be gridlocked as long as the center abides by city-set conditions.

Bluestem has to wonder how many of those objecting to the mosque would feel if the proposal were for a church. What compromises were reached by those places of worship in St. Cloud that located in residential neighborhoods? How were the compromises achieved?

The Islamic Center is obviously open to making changes–and now has gone back to step one.