West Norwalk residents are protesting construction of the town’s first official mosque, which they say will create neighborhood parking and traffic problems.
The Al Madany Islamic Center of Norwalk, which now worships in a private residence on Elton Court, has outgrown the space and wants to move to a bigger prayer hall. The congregation purchased a 1.5-acre property at 127 Fillow St. in 2008 and submitted a proposal in June to the Planning and Zoning Commission for construction of a mosque and community center.
Neighbors are concerned that streets are too narrow to accommodate overflow parking from the mosque and that the roads are already busy with the numerous school and city buses. Residents plan to voice their opposition to the proposal at a Wednesday public hearing.
“We are trying to prevent them from building a very large building on the corner here that happens to be a mosque,” said Ray Mosser, who lives in the Fillow Ridge Townhouses. “Our biggest concern is the traffic and safety. We all have to pass by here.”
Farhan Memon, a Al Madany congregation member who is serving as its representative during the zoning process, agreed that many residents are concerned about parking on residential streets. He, however, also believes the same undercurrent of anti-Islamic sentiment that has been sweeping the country lurks below the surface of the debate in Norwalk.
“I think that the majority of residents have genuine concerns about traffic and parking that we’ve sought to address,” Memon said. “Having said that, we do recognize that in the comments made that people have expressed opinions that are, on their face, racial and prejudicial.”
Stories about the proposed mosque printed on local newspaper websites have received racist online comments, Memon said. On Aug. 25, the owner of the house where the congregation is practicing received a phone call threatening him and his family. Local officers and the Federal Bureau of Investigation responded to the incident, Norwalk police confirmed.
“I think it was someone who, for lack of a better word, was a crackpot,” Memon said. “But it points to the fact that when we have issues like this come up, both locally as well as generally in the country, there are people who go over the line.”