Residents of the area around a proposed Islamic community center on Armstrong Mill Road on Tuesday night questioned why Lexington's Muslim population needs its own community center and why the center can't go somewhere else.
"We do not have a community center," Mahmoud Shalash, president of the Islamic Center of Lexington, told attendees at a special meeting of the River Park Neighborhood Association on Tuesday night. "What's wrong with having a place to call your own?"
The Islamic Center wants to build a community center at 1240 Armstrong Mill Road to house a prayer hall that would accommodate 300 people, a multipurpose room for potluck dinners, weddings and the like, and a gym with a running track above it. The center would have about 200 parking spots.
Shalash and Christopher McCoy, the architect representing the Islamic Center, attended Tuesday night's meeting in an attempt to answer concerns raised by those who live in the area. They were deluged with questions and comments from some of the 50 or so people in attendance.
Most of those who commented on the plan voiced opposition.
Several, including Urban County Councilman Fred Brown, who represents the 8th District, mentioned that the plan calls for entrances not only on Armstrong Mill Road but also on Merman and Accord drives, and they said they were concerned that those could create much more traffic in residential areas.
Others said they were concerned about an influx of traffic on Armstrong Mill, the loss of green space and the size of the facility.
Lena James said after the meeting that most of the homes in the area are single-story, as are the daycare center and veterinary clinic near the proposed community center.
"This just seems like it's so big for our neighborhood," she said. "What would be wrong with going with the rest of the churches all up and down Tates Creek?"
Brian Schlifke asked Shalash why the community center needed to include athletic facilities, when Lexington has a YMCA that is open to all.
He also said he was concerned that another traffic light would be needed, and he said after the meeting that if the property were developed with residences, there would be far fewer cars coming and going.
"This is not about someone's religion or right to have something," Schlifke said after the meeting. "It doesn't fit."
Shalash told those in attendance that the regular gatherings for prayers at the facility would not have enough attendees to cause traffic congestion.
"In the morning, we have six, seven people who come," he said. "The community is not as big as you think."
He said the longterm goal, in maybe five or 10 years, would be to build a larger religious facility on the site, but funding is an obstacle to that.
"It's going to be a while," he said, before ground would be broken even for the community center.
McCoy told the group that the property has not been bought yet, and the sale is contingent upon the center getting a conditional use permit from the city.
The 9-acre property is zoned agricultural and has a house on it facing Armstrong Mill Road. The plan calls for the house to remain, with the community center to be built behind it.
After Shalash and McCoy completed their presentation and left the meeting, several in attendance discussed plans for opposing the conditional use permit. Petitions are being circulated, and several residents said they plan to attend the city's public hearing on the permit Jan. 30.