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City Council lets stand Planning Commission approval of Islamic Society permit for mosque in Willmar, Minn.

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council has let stand the Planning Commission's approval of the conditional use permit requested by the Islamic Society of Willmar to establish a mosque and education center in the former Lafayette Elementary School building.

The council Monday night voted to approve the minutes of the March 28 meeting of the Planning Commission when the society's request for the conditional use was approved, and the council approved the minutes of the April 11 meeting when the commission made seven affirmative findings of fact required to approve the permit.

The Planning Commission's minutes were among eight items on the consent agenda, which the council takes action on early in each regular meeting.

Although council members from time to time pull minutes of boards and commissions from the consent agenda for further discussion and action, no council member asked to have the Planning Commission's minutes pulled for discussion.

A dozen Islamic Society members attended the council meeting and some took their seats in the audience after the consent agenda had been approved. None of them signed up to speak during the open forum.

After the council had received the Finance Committee report, council member Bruce DeBlieck, who represents Ward 1 where the mosque will be located, suggested Mayor Frank Yanish explain the council's Planning Commission action to society members.

Speaking to society spokesman Abdirizak Mahboub who was in the audience, Yanish said the council approved the consent items, which included the Planning Commission minutes, "so it has been approved, just so you're aware of that.''

Mahboub told the Tribune after society members left the meeting that they had expected the council to approve the permit after it was approved by the Planning Commission.

"We expected it would pass, so it will help us now to go forward,'' he said.

Mahboub said the society had been waiting for final permit approval before they proceed with buying the school and property at 1112 Lake Ave. N.W. He said the society will be completing what needs to be done.

"We're glad to have a piece of Willmar now and be part of the community,'' he said.

Toward the end of the council meeting under miscellany, Yanish said he had received two emails from persons who opposed the permit. Yanish asked City Attorney Robert Scott if he "should visit a little bit'' about the emails.

Scott said procedurally the permit was a done deal and had been passed by the council. The permit was granted at the Planning Commission level, which is the body that has the authority under city ordinances, he said.

"Today the council has taken the step to approve the minutes from that meeting so the conditional permit application has been granted,'' Scott said.

Yanish did say for the record that he had received two emails opposing the permit for one reason or another, but he did not read them.

After the council adjourned, DeBlieck told the Tribune many people on the north side have children who attended Lafayette School and many have sentimental attachments to the building.

But he was glad to see it used again after it had sat vacant for some time.

"I'm happy for the Islamic Society that they're able to make good use of the building and hope it works out well for them,'' he said.

Denis Anderson, who also represents Ward 1, said he did not know if anyone would attend to speak out about it or not. The Planning Commission did its job and Anderson said it did not surprise him that there wasn't much opposition on the council.

The society requested the permit to operate an Islamic mosque, religious education, adult education and limited child care where the public school and First Step Inc. daycare had formerly been located.

The property is zoned R-2 for single-family and duplex housing. City zoning ordinance allows places of worship in the residential district with a conditional use permit.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150