Landmark Status Could Stop Mosque Proposal Near Ground Zero

Controversial mosque proposal clears one hurdle, faces others.

May 25, 2010, 12:55 PM

May 25, 2010— -- Controversial plans to build a mosque near the site of the 9/11 terror attack on the World Trade Center could be thwarted by the New York City's Landmarks Commission.

The proposal to build an Islamic center and mosque just blocks from the city's most hallowed ground has divided survivors of the nearly 3,000 people who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, with many families vehemently opposed to plan.

Many have complained that it would be insensitive to have a huge mosque two blocks from the site that became the burial ground for victims of the 9/11 terror attack by Muslim militants of Al Qaeda.

Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said a hearing is scheduled to determine the historic status of the building that is currently on the site.

If the 152-year-old Burlington Coat Factory building at 45 Park Place is determined to have landmark status, that designation would mean the building cannot be torn down to make way for the Islamic cultural center.

The Landmarks Commission has had a pending application for landmark status for the site since 1989, de Bourbon said. The application had been on hold for more than two decades but was recently reinstated after a review by the commission.

She insisted the current review is unrelated to the controversy surrounding the proposed mosque and Islamic center.

"This is a totally separate issue," de Bourbon told "What we're looking at it is whether the building has the architectural and historic significance to the city of New York to merit landmark designation."

The commission will hold a hearing and vote on the landmarks status in the early summer.

Members of the landmarks commission are appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has supported the project.

"Anybody wants to build a house of worship in this city, we'd love to do it," Bloomberg told reporters last week. "They have to comply with the zoning laws. In this case, I think the community board's already been consulted and they overwhelmingly like the idea."

In a heated, four hour meeting tonight, Community Board 1, which represents the area of lower Manhattan that includes Ground Zero, voted 29-1 in favor of the proposal. There were 10 abstentions.

The board's decision is not binding, however.

At the meeting, some relatives carried signs with the faces of 9/11 victims, reflecting still-raw emotions nearly decade after the terrorist attacks.

The board's 12-member Financial District committee unanimously voted in favor of the plan earlier this month.

Mosque Near 9/11 Would Be Known as Cordoba House

Noah Pfefferblit, Community Board 1's district manager, said the board was voting on a resolution in favor of the plan's community center without taking a position on the mosque.

"Most of the resolutions are approved but this is an unusual one because it's been very controversial," he said. "Our members would not be comfortable recommending or not recommending a house of worship."

The mosque is only one component of the Islamic center complex, which also includes a swimming pool, performance space and a basketball court. The center is the brainchild of Feisel Abdul Rauf, a New York imam, and Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement.

The couple hopes to raise the estimated $100 million to raze the building at 45 Park Place to make room for the multi-story glass-and-steel structure two blocks from ground zero.

The Islamic center would be known as Cordoba House and include a mosque for up to 1,500 worshippers on Fridays. Some 500 people already use the site of the old Burlington Coat Factory for Friday prayers.

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