The Examiner

Proposed New Castle Mosque Gets Cold Shoulder at ZBA Hearing

We are part of The Trust Project
An artist's rendering of the mosque proposed by the Upper Westchester Muslim Society.

Neighbors of the proposed New Castle mosque turned out in force last week by arguing that the center would be out of character with the area and could potentially degrade their quality of life.

A string of speakers criticized the Upper Westchester Muslim Society’s (UWMS) plans at the continuation of the public hearing on July 25 before the zoning board of appeals at town hall. The 24,690-square-foot mosque would be built at 130 Pinesbridge Rd.

“This belongs in an accessible, better suited area,” said resident Jennifer Scopes, who said the house of worship and community center would be a safety hazard. “This would be a huge injustice. You cannot and should not put potential neighbors in harm’s way.”

The mosque is proposed on 8.33 acres of land bought by the UWMS in 2004. The society, which is now based in Thornwood, is seeking approval because it would provide its members with their own house of worship that is large enough to accommodate all functions. Many of the religious education classes are held in Mount Kisco and larger services are often scheduled for hotel conference rooms around the county.

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was approved by the ZBA in May. The project continues to be examined under the state Environmental Quality Review Assessment (SEQRA) process.

The hearing came one night after the New Castle Planning Board

called into question the potential impact on the neighborhood.

Residents last week lined up to tell the ZBA that their quality of life would be adversely affected should the application be approved. Resident Katie Vincent said she was concerned about the level of illumination that would emanate from the mosque after sunset, especially coupled with the lack of streetlights on Pinesbridge Road.

“Many people walk and jog here,” Vincent said. “There’s no shoulder, people are already close to the traffic. This decision needs to be based on sound zoning.”

Another resident, Bill Kurth, presented a video set to Simon and Garfunkel’s “America,” highlighting the impact of having cars lined up on the road leading to the mosque.

“Prepare to be annoyed,” Kurth said.

Ronald Steinvurzel, a lawyer and West End resident, has been an outspoken critic of the plans. Steinvurzel said he believes the UWMS will sue if its application is denied under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that gives churches and other religious institutions a way to avoid some of the burdensome zoning restrictions.

“Don’t let this happen,” Steinvurzel told the ZBA. “The board should not be afraid of the (Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act). There is no justification for treating anyone differently.”

Steinvurzel was also highly critical of the UWMS for encouraging teenagers to speak about the importance of having their own mosque.

“I could’ve brought my kids here, but I didn’t think it was right,” he said. “If you’re suffering so badly, move on. Don’t come in and say this is the only property that works.”

UWMS representatives denied they are contemplating a lawsuit. Hasan Ali, a New Castle resident and UWMS member, defended the mosque, though he drew jeers and catcalls from the crowd when he referred to the area as Chappaqua.

“We are here to hear our neighbors,” Ali said. “All your concerns have been addressed. There has been a lot to exaggerate the impact. This is not a mall or sports arena. These things have been addressed. At some point the process must move forward.”

Ali said he was insulted that one resident read off a list of other properties available.

UWMS President Dr. Assad Shaikh said three years was spent looking for a site.

“It is a central location near the Taconic,” Shaikh said. “We want to work with our neighbors to mitigate the impacts. Give us consideration, don’t exaggerate. Let’s not make this adversarial.”

The mosque would host daily and weekend prayers, educational seminars and religious celebrations, including during the month-long Ramadan observance. It would contain 170 parking spaces but could accommodate up to 217 vehicles for large celebrations.

The ZBA will accept written comments until Aug. 24.

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.