Controversial 'Ground Zero Mosque' Likely to Clear Major Hurdle, Commissioner Says

Down the street from controversial site, another mosque has operated for years.

August 2, 2010, 11:21 AM

Aug. 2, 2010— -- A controversial mosque near the site of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center towers is expected to clear a major hurdle despite an outcry from many New Yorkers, some politicians and a major Jewish group.

The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission is expected to reject a proposal on Tuesday to landmark a 19th century building that current stands on the site where a Muslim group wants to build a community center that would be home to the so-called "Ground Zero mosque."

Landmarking the building would require the structure be preserved and prevent the Muslim group from tearing it down to make way for its proposed mosque.

Board member Stephen Byrns declined to say how he will vote, but told he expects the vote to be "overwhelmingly against" landmarking the building.

Byrns said his prediction was based on "a little bit" of conversation with his colleagues on the board "and looking at the issue."

The issue is an old Burlington Coat factory, an Italian Renaissance palazzo building that was erected between 1857 and 1858.

Critics of the proposed mosque claim that having it so close to the site of the terror attack that was carried out by radical Muslims would be insensitive and cruel to the thousands of New Yorkers who lost loved ones when the Twin Towers fell.

Byrns said the board would not be considering "how close is too close" to Ground Zero. It's decision, he said, will be confined to the "historical and architectural significance" of the structure.

The commission's vote would be one of the first major hurdles for the proposed complex, called the Cordoba Initiative, which has been met with fierce resistance from many to its construction plans.

While the Cordoba's plans have become a lightning rod for politicians from Buffalo to Alaska, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it mosque a few blocks away draws worshipers instead of critics.

The Web site of the Masjid Manhattan even includes a disclaimer that it is not affiliated with the Cordoba plans.

"Please be advised that we are by no means affiliated with any other organization trying to build anything new in the area of downtown Manhattan."

"Our members are city, state and federal employees, as well as professional employees of the financial area who come to our Masjid to perform their daily prayers," the statement continued. "Masjid Manhattan and its members condemn any type of terrorist acts."

For more than an hour today, men wearing everything from neatly pressed suits and corporate ID cards to jeans and T-shirts came to pray at Masjid Manhattan. Three women also quietly made their way in, slipping silently into the women's section separated by two thick curtains.

The mosque has operated in the neighborhood for years, moving in 2008 to its cramped basement space after their previous building was sold in 2008 and they were forced out.

New Yorkers told that the idea of a mosque is not the problem, but the Cordoba Initiatve is just too close to the city's most painful scar and has struck many as insensitive and cruel.

"I don't think they should do it. It's too close," Robert Engel said. "It's a slap in the face."

Anti-Defamation League Speaks Out Against Mosque to the Surprise of Many

Engel's office on Church Street, would look right into the proposed center. It's not a prospect he or many of his co-workers are looking forward to, he said.

Engel, 36, also said that he's never had any problem with Masjid Manhattan, often passing worshippers on his way to eat in the restaurant above their prayer space.

"I'm fine with them there," he said. "I just think that they shouldn't build one too close to the World Trade Center."

The center, which has been called everything from an insult to a "house of evil" by protestors, has already been through several approvals, including the a community financial district and an advisory board.

Yanna Agoureev, 46, who has lived near Ground Zero for five years, said she isn't offended by the plans for the Cordoba mosque, but fears trouble for a long time to come if it's built, predicting protestors and clashes with Muslims.

"I'm basically okay with it," she said. "But if it were somewhere else, it would be a bit better for everybody."

Last week, the Anti-Defamation League raised eyebrows when it seemingly strayed from its longstanding reputation for interfaith tolerance, and issued a statement condemning plans for the mosque.

"The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process," the ADL statement read. "Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found."

The mosque is part of a planned 13-story community center that will also house recreational facilities and space for cultural events.

The controversy over the building of the Cordoba Initiative has been heated and furious from the start and has morphed into a political debate that has ensnared Sarah Palin and one of New York's Republican gubernatorial candidates.

"They should just move this thing," Buffalo Republican Carol Paladino told the Wall Street Journal over the weekend. "The vast majority of New Yorkers and Americans have rejected their idea."

Palin earned the ire of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and became a late-night punchline last month when she took to Twitter to call on New Yorkers to "refudiate" plans for the mosque, calling it "unnecessary provocation."

Bloomberg quickly shot back at Palin, saying that "everything the United States stands for and New York stands for is tolerance and openness."

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