A Kennesaw mosque that previously won a fight with the city to open and operate within a strip mall is now seeking to build its own facility on a nearby property across Cobb Parkway as soon as next year.

Masjid Suffah of Kennesaw has been operating for about four years in a strip mall on Jiles Road behind the Publix grocery store that fronts Cobb Parkway. The prayer center’s permit was granted by the City Council following an initial denial by a 4-1 vote in December of 2014. After Doug Dillard, the attorney representing mosque members, threatened to sue the council for violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, council members reversed their decision.

Now Masjid Suffah leaders are pursuing the initial steps to move to a permanent location behind the Bank of America on Pine Mountain Road near Cobb Parkway. Mohammad Jafari, the imam or leader of prayer at the mosque, said that while mosque leaders would like to have the facility built sometime next year, a more realistic construction table would likely see it opening in two or three years. Fundraising for the facility, he adds, will be the ultimate factor of when it is built.

The mosque has been the topic of several discussion threads on the social media site Nextdoor. The traffic generated by the facility is among the points of concern.

“My question is who in their infinite wisdom approved the construction of a potentially heavily attended, non-residential facility in a residential area on a single lane street that is already heavily burdened with traffic? Am I missing something?” wrote Larry Krause, a Pine Mountain Road resident.

But the city has yet to receive any building plans, and no votes have been taken regarding the proposed mosque site by the city’s planning commission or council, according to Councilman Chris Henderson, who says the mosque has so far only gotten approval for mass grading of the site and pre-engineering work.

In 2016, mosque officials said their plans called for an 8,500-square-foot space with a larger worship area, multi-purpose space for kids to play and about 200 parking spaces. The property, which was donated to the mosque by a member, was said at the time to be about 3.5 acres.

The mosque has yet to submit to the city any documents pertaining to its proposed facility.

“I would assume at some point, it will come to us for final plat approval,” Henderson said of the residentially zoned property, which under city zoning code and federal law is allowed to have religious facilities built on it and therefore does not need to be rezoned.

The mosque would still have to meet all building codes and other regulations, he added.

“So far, I’ve had one phone call, and that’s the main interaction I’ve had with the community on it. I have heard from other council members that at least one other has had at least one phone call,” Henderson said. “It’s an understandable concern — as the gentleman who talked to me said, he bought his property and it had residential behind it, so the worst he expected was a house built behind him. Now that there’s a parking lot that’s going to be built behind him, that’s a surprise and a completely understandable surprise.”

NEIGHBOR SEEKING EFFECTIVE BUFFER

Mitchell Hyre, who resides in the Village At Pine Mountain neighborhood near the proposed mosque site, shares Henderson’s concern. He says his goal is to see the formation of a committee of nearby property owners that would meet with the developer and the city to come up with buffers that would be visually pleasing to those in neighboring residents and would muffle any sound from the mosque.

“These people bought their properties with the understanding that all around it was residential, and we were told by Realtors that nobody (else) could build there, and ‘you’ll be fine,’ and it’s all wooded, and there are deer and rabbits and foxes,” Hyre said, who says his opposition is not based on religion.

“If they do their due diligence, and we don’t have to look at it, and we don’t have to hear it, that we don’t have lights shining in our bedroom window and that we don’t listen to garbage trucks at 2:30 in the morning servicing their dumpster, that’s about all we can do,” Hyre said, “and that’s all that I want.”

The city of Kennesaw, Henderson adds, has received “zero complaints“ since Masjid Suffah began operating, adding that he would vote in favor of the mosque’s plans if they met all city codes.

“It comes down to there is no difference in a mosque or a Baptist church or anybody else, and I have to protect their rights, just like I protect the rights of any other citizen in Kennesaw,” he said. “If they are following our zoning ordinances, and they are building to code, then there is absolutely no reason that I can ever see saying ‘no’ to it.”

Amid Masjid Suffah’s efforts to open in the strip mall in 2014, protesters attended numerous council meetings about the mosque, carrying signs saying “Ban Islam” and “No Mosque,” and voiced concerns about the mosque spreading Shariah law.

Jafari, the mosque’s imam, said he fears that anti-Islam sentiment could return.

“People are not aware of what or who Muslims are, and so I think that’s the main issue that we’re dealing with,” said Jafari, adding that a church operates on the same street, likely less than a mile down the road.

In the meantime, Jafari is extending an invitation for community members to visit Masjid Suffah when it is open at prayer times.

We are here to establish our connection with God, and that’s by the teachings that have been taught to us in the Quran and ultimately by the example of our prophet, Muhammad,” Jafari said. “Our responsibility as Muslims is to make sure that our neighbors are always good in terms of our relationship with them. This is just our gesture to them and our way (to say), ‘Hey, we’re open to helping you guys understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.’”

Follow Jon Gargis on Twitter at twitter.com/JonGargis.

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