MERIDEN — An Islamic mosque that has outgrown its home on Main Street in Middletown is looking to occupy vacant commercial space on Research Parkway.
Ahmed Bedir, president of the Omar Islamic Center Inc., wants a special permit to change the use from industrial to place of worship at 999 Research Parkway. The Islamic center would use the first floor for worship services and rent the second floor office space.
The application goes before the city’s Planning Commission at its regular meeting Wednesday.
If approved, the mosque would be the second Sunni mosque in the city, with the other on East Main Street. A third mosque in South Meriden belongs to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
The Omar Islamic Center currently serves 25 to 35 families, but Bedir expects membership could double in the next few years. Mosque members come from Meriden, Wallingford, Middlefield, Middletown, and as far away as Watertown.
Neighbors include the Protein Sciences manufacturing and research plant and a vacant lot. The building is owned by Research Parkway Associates of Cheshire.
“We’re hoping for a good result,” Bedir said. “We are in the process of talking to the owner (about a possible sale) but right now we’re looking for a change of use.”
The 3.56-acre site is located on the west side of Research Parkway in what is called an M-4 zone or planned industrial. The two-story building was constructed in 1991 and has been unoccupied for last 10 years according to Bedir. There is an existing 110-space parking lot in good condition that would be restriped.
Mosque activity would include regular midday prayer services, and Saturday community dinners on a monthly or weekly basis, Friday afternoon prayer services, and Sunday school.
“This is a place of worship, it’s completely off hours,” Bedir said.
The Planning Commission will likely refer the change of use to the City Council’s Economic Development Housing and Zoning committee, which will make a recommendation to the full City Council. The council could refer the application back to the Planning Commission for a final vote.
Bedir anticipates there could be some opposition because the change means taking a commerical building off the tax rolls by making it tax exempt. Badir is prepared with market research showing how property values in various communities near a mosque have increased over time.
City Planner Renata Bertotti cannot make a recommendation about any application but is expected to educate the commission members on applicable regulations and criteria for allowing special permits, including whether places of worship are allowed in commercial zones. According to city statute, the City Council must also approve and the Planning Commission shall find a place of worship will not “depreciate the value of the property in the neighborhood or otherwise detrimental or aggravating to the neighborhood or its residents or alter the neighborhood’s essential characteristics.”
Bertotti has also instructed the Planning Commission to consider the “equal terms” provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations.
“The staff believes that since there are secular uses allowed as of right in this zoning district, approving this application would be consistent with the “equal terms” provision of RLUIPA, according to discussion notes ahead of tonight’s meeting.
Sunni Islam is the world's largest religious denomination, followed by Catholicism.