Long before the Al Farooq Youth and Family Center opened its doors in east Bloomington, neighborhood residents lined up to cite countless reasons why the organization shouldn’t be granted a conditional-use permit.
Despite the objections, the Bloomington City Council granted the CUP more than a year ago.
In the months since the organization opened to Friday afternoon prayer services, among other things, the complaints have continued to occupy the council’s time.
And at least one council member has joined the chorus of the disenchanted.
“I think it’s time to bring Al Farooq back in here and review their conditions on their conditional-use permit,” Councilmember Vern Wilcox told the council at its Aug. 6 meeting. “If they’re not going to obey the conditions, I’m ready to vote to pull the conditional-use permit,” he added.
Wilcox took aim at the organization after the council heard complaints about the late night activity taking place at the former school building on Park Avenue and the traffic volume generated by the building on Friday afternoons. Despite his disapproval of activities at the Muslim youth and family center, the city’s options to address concerns of the neighborhood may not be as heavy handed as Wilcox would like.
A recurring objection of the neighborhood has been the traffic generated by the building during Friday afternoon prayer services held at the Muslim center.
The city has observed the traffic volume generated by the weekly prayer service, according to City Manager Mark Bernhardson. He told the council that parking on Friday afternoons has spilled onto nearby streets, despite the appearance of adequate parking available in off-street parking lots. Although it is legal to park on the street, a letter has been sent to the center’s management explaining that parking needs to be better managed on Friday afternoons. If parking demand exceeds the available off-street parking, the city may require that the Muslim center construct an additional 50 off-street parking spaces, Bernhardson noted.
“We are very aware of the parking situation,” he told the council. “We are taking appropriate action.
“The expected outcome of that action may either be that they choose to manage their parking better, or that at a certain point they will need to construct additional spaces on site, as was part of the conditional-use permit.”
Late night use of the building drew greater criticism, with complaints that the building is being used for gatherings that last until 1 a.m., according to Sally Ness, the primary spokesperson of the neighborhood. When the building was initially being considered as a Muslim community center, “that was not proposed,” Ness told the council.
The building was proposed as a Muslim community center that included a day care and school component in addition to Friday afternoon prayer services. “This building is a disguise for a religious facility,” according to Vi Rozek, a neighborhood resident. “They had disguised their original intent from all of us by telling each and every one of us that this building was going to be a private, primary school and community center.
“They have not shown respect for the neighborhood.”
“We’re letting the neighbors down,” Councilmember Tom Hulting told the council.
The disappointment neighbors have with the late night use of the building, and the perceived intentions of the ownership when it took over the building, may mean little, according to City Attorney Sandra Johnson. Unless there is an express condition of approval, religious institutions are provided the right of public assembly, which the building was approved for, she noted.
City code does not limit hours of operation at places of assembly, and no limitations were incorporated into the conditional-use permit for the Muslim center, Planning Manager Glen Markegard explained following the meeting. Late night and early morning uses for midnight or sunrise services are not uncommon at places of assembly, he noted.
Under federal law the city cannot discriminate against religious uses by placing more restrictions on religious assembly than on non-religious assembly, Markegard explained. Therefore the center may hold religious assemblies on any day of the week, he added.
The council has no scheduled agenda items pertaining to the Al Farooq Youth and Family Center, according to Markegard.
Requests for comment from the center’s leadership, Dar al Farooq Community Center of Minneapolis, have not been returned.
Information about the project is available through the city’s website at xr.com/bloomington.