After a debate of more than an hour, Lexington's Board of Adjustment voted 6-1 Friday to allow an Islamic community center on Armstrong Mill Road.
The existing Islamic Center, on South Limestone, had applied for a conditional use permit for a worship center on a 9-acre site on Armstrong Mill Road currently zoned agricultural. The planned three-story building would include prayer space on the bottom floor, a gym on the second floor and a walking track on the third floor. It also would include 200 parking spaces.
Some residents of the River Park and Gainesway neighborhoods opposed the project.
Several neighbors spoke against the plan during Friday's meeting.
Mark Jeffers, a vice president of the River Park Neighborhood Association, said adding more traffic on Armstrong Mill Road would create more potential for traffic accidents.
"I think it would make it more accident prone," Jeffers said.
He also said that neighbors near the property have complained for years about problems with stormwater runoff.
Kausha Miller told the board that the Islamic community center doesn't conform to principles laid out in the county's comprehensive plan — such as building strong neighborhoods. The neighborhood needs more grocery stores and other retail options, Miller said.
"It is not a contextual fit," Miller said. "It does not fit."
But Chris McCoy, an architect who represents the Islamic Center, said the traffic impact would be minimal. Religious services would be early Friday afternoons, just after lunch. There might be some traffic on the weekends to use the gym, he said.
The designs for the project call for the building to be built near the front of the property — close to Armstrong Mill Road. Nearly two-thirds of the property would remain green space, McCoy said.
He also said that the center plans to put a drainage basin on the property so it can capture more drainage than is required.
Much of the debate centered on how to manage traffic in and out of the property.
James Schrader, the real estate agent who marketed the property, said he had approached Fayette County school officials to see if they were interested in the property, because Mill Creek Elementary abutted the property. But there was no interest.
In fact, the only other interest in the property was for townhouse-type, medium-density residential development, he said. That type of development would create much more traffic and have a bigger environmental impact.
"This is what the market has decided is the best use of this property," Schrader said.
Ultimately, the board agreed to an entrance on Armstrong Mill Road and another entrance on Accord Drive.
McCoy also agreed to move an entrance road to Armstrong Mill Road to save a 300-year-old bur oak tree. A home on the property would remain, McCoy said.
The only member of the board of adjustment to vote against the special use permit was Janice Meyer.
Charles Payne, president of the River Park Neighborhood Association, said after the hearing that he isn't sure whether the neighborhood would appeal the board's decision.
"I'll have to talk to everyone and see what they want to do," Payne said.
Mahmoud Shalash, president of the Islamic Center, who attended the meeting but did not speak, has said he does not plan to close the current Islamic Center on South Limestone when the new community center opens. Shalash has also said that he must raise additional money before he can build the community center.