Despite Protests, Mosque Plan Near 9/11 Site Wins Key Vote

Controversial mosque near WTC site is called a "house of evil."

ByABC News
May 25, 2010, 12:55 PM

May 26, 2010— -- Opponents called it an "insult," "demeaning" and a "house of evil," but the angry protests did not stop an advisory board from approving plans to build a mosque and Islamic center two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

In a heated, four hour meeting Tuesday night, 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. At the raucous meeting, some relatives carried signs with the faces of 9/11 victims, reflecting still-raw emotions nearly a decade after the terrorist attacks.

"This is an insult," said one of the more than 150 people at the meeting. "This is demeaning. This is humiliating that you would build a shrine to the very ideology that inspired the attacks on 9/11."

Angrily pointing a finger at board members, another protester said: "This house of evil will be the birthplace of the next terrorist event."

But Community Board 1 member Rob Townley called the plan a "seed of peace," a message repeated by mosque supporters throughout the night.

"We believe that this is a significant step in the Muslim community to counteract the hate and fanaticism in the minority of the community," he said.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the mosque proposal, said he understood the pain and outrage, especially since Muslims also died in the attacks.

"We have condemned the actions of 9/11," Abdul Rauf said. "We have condemned terrorism."

Still, plans to build a mosque and Islamic community center could be thwarted by the New York City's Landmarks Commission, which will hold a hearing on the matter in the early summer.

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. The building, constructed between 1857 and 1858 in the Italian Renaissance palazzo style, could be historically significant.

If the 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."

Community Board 1's 12-member Financial District committee unanimously voted in favor of the plan earlier this month.