Some neighbors of a proposed Islamic community center on Armstrong Mill Road are raising concerns about potential traffic problems and stormwater runoff, and a loss of green space.
The Islamic Center of Lexington, which is now on South Limestone, filed an application with the city in last month for a conditional-use permit for the property at 1240 Armstrong Mill Road. Lexington's Board of Adjustment will decide Jan. 30 whether to grant the permit.
The property is zoned agricultural.
Plans for the more than nine-acre site include a three-story community center. The first floor would be used for prayer and worship, the second floor is to be a gymnasium, and the third floor would be a walking track.
Mahmoud Shalash, the imam of the Islamic Center, said the hope was that the group eventually would be able to build a mosque on the site. But those plans are much further down the road. The three-story, 14,000-square-foot community center is dependent on fundraising, which Shalash said can't begin until after the Jan. 30 meeting.
"This is going to take a long time," he said of building the community center. "When we went to the city, we were told that we had to show them all of our future plans."
Mark Jeffers, vice president of the River Park Neighborhood Association, which includes Armstrong Mill Road, said he had heard from about 50 neighbors who are opposed to the proposal.
Jeffers said no one has opposed it because it is an Islamic center.
"There will be a real negative impact in terms of traffic and congestion, which is already a problem in that area," he said.
The area also slopes. A blacktop parking lot for about 200 cars would add to the area's stormwater runoff and drainage problems, Jeffers said.
The area's poor drainage also means more mosquitoes in the warmer months, he said.
Charles Payne, president of the River Park Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood has not voted whether to support or oppose the project. A special meeting has been called for Tuesday to discuss whether to take a vote.
But Payne said he personally opposed the plan.
"A mega-church or a mega-mosque is not a good fit for the neighborhood," Payne said. "You would need a four-lane road to handle all of the traffic."
Through the city's planning department, the area is developing the Armstrong Mill Road West Small Area Plan, which is to guide development.
The neighborhood has worked on the plan since September. That plan doesn't call for more churches in the area.
"This doesn't address the needs in this area," Jeffers said. One of the area's greatest needs is a grocery store, he said. "That would be an ideal place for a farmers market.
"This is like putting an igloo store in the middle of the desert. There is no need for it in the neighborhood."
Shalash, however, said traffic would not be an issue. First, there would be 60 to 70 people at most on Friday afternoons — when services is held — for about a half-hour. "That's not 60 or 70 cars; that's 60 people," he said.
If the community center is built, there could be as many as three entrances and exits. Not all the traffic would go onto Armstrong Mill Road, he said.
Only the front of the current property would be developed if Shalash can raise the money for the community center. That leaves plenty of green space behind the church, he said. Also, current plans call for preserving trees on the property.
"It will be an improvement over what's there now," Shalash said. "It will raise property values."
Traffic would be minimal, he said: "It's not like it's going to be a shopping center, with people coming in and out at all times."
He said the South Limestone center would not be closed if approval is given for the Armstrong Mill Road site. Students at the University of Kentucky worship at the center, which opened in 1982. But the group has far outgrown its current space. Even though Shalash bought the neighboring property so the center would have more parking spaces, parking is a problem so close to UK's campus.
"We have one or two people who get towed every Friday," he said.
The Armstrong Mill Road site would be for people who live in the area, which has a growing Muslim population.
"I think people are just afraid of it because they don't understand it, just like Islam itself," Shalash said.
Not everyone in the neighborhood is against the proposed Islamic Center.
Heather Chapman, who lives close to the proposed site, said she didn't understand why people were opposed to it.
"I don't think traffic is going to be a problem, especially since it will only be once a week during service," she said. "I like that their design includes green space. I would hope that the opposition is not based on anti-Muslim sentiment."
Shalash said he hoped he could talk to the neighborhood group before the Jan. 30 meeting.
"We had great neighbors on South Limestone," Sha lash said. "After Sept. 11, we had people from all over the neighborhood come and say they would help us patrol the center. We had no problems. We had one window that was broken out. The window company replaced it for free."