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Planning Commission hearing Wednesday on mosque permit

The Willmar Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Wednesday to consider a conditional use permit to allow for a mosque at the former Lafayette Elementary School. Tribune photos by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesoday at the Fire Hall, 515 Second St. S.W., to consider a conditional use permit to allow for an Islamic mosque at the site of the former Lafayette Elementary School, 1112 Lake Ave. N.W.

The commission will take comments from the public during the hearing to hear reasons for and against the conditional use permit requested by the Islamic Society of Willmar to use the building and site for a mosque, religious education, adult education and limited child care.

The Islamic Society of Willmar currently has a mosque and education center at 410 Becker Ave. S.W. in downtown Willmar, but the local Muslim community has outgrown it.

The Garfield School building at 512 Eighth St. S.W. had been considered for purchase from the Willmar School District, but the Islamic Society ultimately chose not to proceed because of the cost of remodeling the building to suit their needs.

City Planner Megan Sauer said conditional use permits are approved by the City Council when the council approves the Planning Commission's minutes, or permits are acted on separately if the council pulls the minutes of the Planning Commission for discussion.

At a community meeting earlier this year, City Administrator Charlene Stevens said that zoning issues for a mosque would be handled the same way as for a church.

Houses of worship are allowed in most zoning classifications in the city.

The city would look at issues like traffic flow, parking and noise issues, and the type of religion would not be an issue, she said.

The former Lafayette Elementary School was sold by the school district in 2007 to First Step Inc. daycare. The owners closed the daycare in November after going through a foreclosure.