Last Thursday, the city's planning commission voted to recommend that council allow the expansion with 25 conditions.
The worship center first asked to upgrade its 2,500 sq. ft. location to make it a 7,900 sq. ft. structure in May 2010, but city council voted against the expansion based on an agreement the mosque had, reportedly, made with surrounding neighborhoods to not try to expand.
Planning commission members also voted against the expansion three years ago.
“I voted against [the request in 2010], based on the merits, but … I feel good that both sides have worked in a mutual area of agreement to provide something that's balanced for the worshipers and for the residents,” said commission member Rob Partee, as he was making the motion this time to approve the request.
After the 2010 denial, the mosque's representatives issued a lawsuit against the city, saying they had been "unreasonably" limited and discriminated against based on their religion.
But after several court rulings and appeals, it was decided on the federal level that the city must consider the project again.
One condition added to the new recommendation for approval says the center cannot expand its square footage again for 15 years.
Another condition says the building cannot stand taller than 35 feet, and other conditions prohibit the center from cutting down two large trees and from adding parking spots to the front of the building.
Several residents went to the meeting to speak in favor and against the expansion. The speakers in favor are members of the mosque and those opposed live in the surrounding neighborhoods.
One member of the center said his adult children, who grew up in Alpharetta, ask him a question he hasn't been able to answer: “When are we going to have a decent place of worship?”
He then pointed out that he sees “humongous churches on both sides of Rucker Road” where single-family homes are located.
But residents in the nearby Fairfax subdivision maintained that the Islamic center promised in 2004 that it would not expand, but had no intention of following through.
“In our opinion … the Islamic Center of North Fulton has always planned for continued growth, even though they promised not to expand the existing structure.”
Commission member Francis Kung’u addressed the accusation that the original denial was the result of religious discrimination, saying, “We were very clear that we greatly appreciate the efforts of the mosque and what it brings to the community.”
The recommendation for approval was OK'd by all commission members except Will Gurley.
Chairman Mike Tomy encouraged those interested in the issue to let their voices be heard when the request goes before City Council on Sept. 23.
Alpharetta City Council will vote on the North Fulton Islamic Center's expansion on Sept. 23.