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Neighbors Express Concerns About New Castle Mosque Proposal

The July 30 Zoning Board of Appeals meeting was packed due to public hearings for the proposed mosque. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
A photo of a slide showing the mosque's newest site plan. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
A photo of a slide showing the mosque's older site plan. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
A photo of a rendering of the proposed mosque. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
A photo of a slide that addresses a proposed widening of part of Hoags Cross Road, which is near the proposed mosque. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- The Upper Westchester Muslim Society’s revised proposal for a mosque in New Castle failed to assuage neighbors, who spoke in opposition at a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting.

The residents at the July 30 meeting, who live in the West End of town, voiced concerns about traffic, the project’s septic system, runoff and impact to property values. Several argued that the proposal is out of place in the neighborhood. The plan includes a building of nearly 25,000 square feet on a site of more than eight acres. The site is at 130 Pinesbridge Road.

“We welcome you into our community,” said Ronald Steinvurzel. “We do not welcome your development into our community.”

Traffic was discussed repeatedly by Agnes Porricelli, who lives across the street from the proposed site. As an example of existing traffic, she mentioned the location of her daughter’s bus stop, which is at Pinesbridge Road and Hoags Cross Road, and how she has to step into greenery to be safe.

“Why are we bringing danger to our community?” she said.

Jason Hoffman, who is president of the Stillwater Association, focused on the site’s proximity to Stillwater Lake and expressed concern about topsoil disturbance due to tree removal.

The Zoning Board held two public hearings. One was for a special permit that UWMS needs and another is for a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which is an environmental review document. The FEIS is the successor to the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). A 2012 DEIS hearing was held and people expressed concerns, according to records.

The revised plan, described at the meeting and in the FEIS, has on-site parking cut from 217 spaces to 120, with 15 more available through landbanking. Locations were mentioned in the FEIS for off-site parking, including other places of worship. UWMS, according to the proposal, anticipates having up to 650 people on site at a given time for the holidays Eid ul-adha and Eid ul-fitr.

A landscaped setback area on the northern section on the property has been increased from 20 feet to 40. There would also be a net 18 trees added, versus a net 164 removed in older plan, due to the planting of newer trees. At the meeting, it was also noted that part of Hoags Cross Road would be widened by eight feet, which would facilitate the movement of emergency vehicles.

Michael Zarin, an attorney representing UWMS, contended the plan is zoning compliant, noting lower building and impervious surface coverage percentages than the permitted maximums.

Hussein Elzoghby, a UWMS board member, explained the rationale for the mosque, which would replace a Thornwood space.

“It will allow us to establish a permanent home like any other community of faith,” he said.

Several defended the project, including members and people familiar with UWMS through interfaith intiatives.

Ali Javed, also a UWMS board member, emphasized the brief total time of a year of the high holy days, which is two dates of three hours each.

“There is no traffic issue. It’s just two days,” said Ola Nosseir, a Briarcliff Manor resident who represents UWMS. She recalled her own experience living near a synagogue and dealing with its high holy days, including giving her driveway for parking.

While two men expressed opposition due to religion, there was no support voiced for their comments.

The Zoning Board voted 4-1 to adjourn both public hearings to its September meeting. Zarin objected to extending the FEIS hearing, while board member Harvey Boneparth was the only dissenter.


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