Supervisors approve mosque, reject appeals - Gilroy Dispatch: San Martin / Santa Clara County

Supervisors approve mosque, reject appeals

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Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2012 6:30 pm

The South Valley Islamic Community sees the county’s ultimate approval of their permit to build a mosque and cemetery in San Martin as a mixed blessing, as they still feel the restrictions imposed on the site will infringe on their constitutional rights to freely practice their religion.

Meanwhile, South Santa Clara County residents opposed to the project see the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors’ unanimous 5-0 vote Tuesday to accept the site’s planned use as a loss to the 7,000-person rural community – and some say they will seek legal action to prohibit the religious institution’s plans to build a new place of worship.

The supervisors approved the site permit for the proposed Cordoba Center property on Monterey Road with the conditions recommended by the county planning commission when it approved the permit last month.

At the same time Tuesday, the supervisors also denied three appeals to the planning commission’s Aug. 2 decision.

One of those appeals was filed by the project developer. The SVIC thinks the permit conditions – which include limiting the number of “special events” that might draw up to 150 people - will limit the Muslim congregation’s constitutional right to practice religion.

The Supervisors’ decision followed more than two hours of presentations by the appellants, public testimony and board discussion. More than 30 members of the public spoke, expressing a mix of strong views.

One SVIC member said opponents of the project are “grasping at straws” by claiming the project is in violation of land use and environmental codes despite numerous studies and reports that prove that’s not the case.

Those opposed to the project continued to state they are not satisfied with studies that show the Cordoba Center will pose no significant impacts on groundwater, traffic and noise in the area.

Supervisor Mike Wasserman, who represents South County, noted that after reviewing a stack of paperwork outlining numerous impact studies on the site, the planning commission’s decision was not in violation of existing land-use policies as two of the appellants argued.

However, he said he is “disappointed” that the developer appealed its own permit, suggesting the SVIC was seeking fundamental last-minute changes.

“In this case, the applicant got what they asked for, and then they’re appealing it,” Wasserman said. “That didn’t seem right to me.”

The project, which has generated heated controversy in recent months, is proposed on a 15-acre site on Monterey Road, just north of the intersection of California Avenue. Included is a 5,000-square-foot prayer hall, 2,800-square-foot multi-purpose hall, a two-acre cemetery, and open space.

In its appeal, the SVIC did not seek a reversal of the planning commission’s approval, but modifications to some of the restrictions.

Specifically, they sought approval for allowing daily attendance of up to 150 people at the site, allowing overnight accommodations for security staff or overnight events, and increasing the size of the multi-purpose hall to 5,000 square feet.

The planning commission restricted the site to maximum daily attendance of 80, with only four events per year accommodating up to 150 people.

SVIC members argued that the project should be looked at as any other church seeking permission to build a place of worship.  

“Have you ever heard of a church that can only have four special events per year?” SVIC member Hamdy Abbass said after the meeting.

County planning staff’s recommendation to limit daily attendance to 80 was based on the SVIC’s estimates, and the projected design and size of the septic system.

These changes are in line with what SVIC originally proposed last year, SVIC spokeswoman Melindah Bush said.

“We are not asking you to change laws – just to apply the existing law fairly on us as you would on a church,” Bush said.

County staff added that there remain administrative and public processes through which the developer can gain approval for these desired changes, and SVIC members said they will likely pursue that process.

Two more appeals to the Cordoba Center also heard asked supervisors to reject the use permit outright.

The San Martin Neighborhood Alliance appealed the project based on what its representatives said were violations of public noticing and county land-use guidelines. Plus, they contended the proposed project does not adhere to county general plan policies that require “local serving” uses on non-commercial, non-residential projects.

“We’re only asking you to follow your own plans, and ensure residents of San Martin can enjoy the same rural character (we enjoy),” SMNA member Michael Brookman said.

Another appeal was filed by a group known as the People’s Coalition for Government Accountability. Represented by their attorney Dan De Vries at Tuesday’s meeting. The PCGA also claimed the Cordoba Center proposal violates a number of county land use, zoning and general plan policies.

In recent months residents have cited a number of potential impacts of allowing the Cordoba Center to proceed. These predominantly relate to possible groundwater contamination from the proposed cemetery, and stormwater runoff which some fear could result in flooding during heavy rains.

County staff and consultants conducted a series of studies that found the area where the cemetery and buildings are proposed can support the project with no foreseeable significant impacts on the environment, traffic, or noise.

Many of these complaints were repeated during public comments.

Georgine Scott Codiga of Gilroy called the county’s process of studying and approving the project a “disaster” that has been replete with “fraud, discrepancies and multiple code violations.”

She said Wednesday that county staff and the SVIC turned the process into an “emotional issue.” She said the Gilroy/Morgan Hill Patriots political group, of which she is president, is looking into whether or not there are any other legal means for residents to block the project.

“I think it was a sad day for San Martin residents. We found out that the supervisors caved into special interests,” Scott Codiga said.

While some who offered public comments at Tuesday’s meeting suggested that another church – Shadow Mountain Baptist Church in Morgan Hill – applied for a permit to build a church and school at the same site several years ago and was denied, that’s not “technically” true, according to the church’s pastor.  

Shadow Mountain pastor Kyle Haynes said in 2007 the church spoke with county staff about their initial plans, but they were “discouraged” from applying for a permit because county staff insisted the soil would not pass percolation tests required for septic systems. Therefore, the church never submitted an application.

Percolation tests eventually conducted on the property found that the area where the SVIC plans to build meets state and county environmental health standards, county staff said Tuesday.

In the SVIC’s rebuttal, Bush added that the Cordoba Center will be a “guardian” of the property, and plans to serve the local community with soup kitchens, charitable events and outreach and education efforts.

“Lifting these restrictions benefits the whole community,” Bush said. “We chose San Martin because it's a quiet rural community. We respect this community because we are part of it.”

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  • Gilroybighouse posted at 6:42 pm on Thu, Sep 27, 2012.

    Gilroybighouse Posts: 46

    DDub, higherpotential, gilroyguy - Not everyone falls into nice molds. I'm so far right I think the republicans are a lot of socialists, but I was aghast at the naked bigotry exhibited over this issue. I think both sides have lost the ability to separate what's right and principled from their party line. It's extremely sad to see some right-winger talking threats of terrorism from a community mosque, while the left-winger is happily supporting indefinite detention(!) and taxes for not doing something (individual mandate!).

    In any case, as I said before, if you are afraid of a little mosque, you really need to re-examine your priorities, phobias and values. A real American does not fear someone else having their rights, be they left or right.

  • DDub posted at 12:03 pm on Thu, Sep 27, 2012.

    DDub Posts: 34

    Ah yes, it is the 'left wing' who fostering hatred here... Who are the one's trying to block peoples right to worship whomever they want? Sounds to me like another hate-inspired tactic coming from the right wing.... You call yourselves 'patriots' and that you are trying to 'protect' America but all you are doing is attempting to subvert the inalienable rights given to ALL citizens of this country. Let them worship and mind your own business.

  • Higherpotential posted at 4:47 pm on Wed, Sep 26, 2012.

    Higherpotential Posts: 36

    Left wing, hate fostering extremist, that are left of lenin approve this article..

  • agilroyguy posted at 12:31 pm on Wed, Sep 26, 2012.

    agilroyguy Posts: 6

    glad to see that the supervisors chose rationality over bigotry and prejudice. I welcome this organization to the community, and would rather have them as a neighbor than the right wing, hate fostering extremists that dare to call themselves patriots.

  • DDub posted at 11:12 am on Wed, Sep 26, 2012.

    DDub Posts: 34

    Awww, the poor bigots of San Martin must be really upset today.

  • KingNicholas2 posted at 6:24 am on Wed, Sep 26, 2012.

    KingNicholas2 Posts: 411

    Allaho akbar!

  • truthopiner posted at 11:35 pm on Tue, Sep 25, 2012.

    truthopiner Posts: 12

    Today was a very sad day for the residents of San Martin. We all learned that the County Board of Supervisors is drunk with power and doesn't have to comply with pesky County Land Use Codes and Ordinances. Can you say special interests?!! Anyone that can read can review the numerous Land use codes and ordinances and see that this project violates them all. Wonder who bought off County Officials? If you actually read the documents in the file the County early on informed SVIC that this project didn't conform to County Land Use Policies and told SVIC that the project would be better suited in an area like (Gilroy or Morgan Hill) that didn't have urban growth restrictions and additional "rural use" codes to adhere to. Guess County BOS didn't read that letter (ref 9/19/11) or was paid not to. The BOS also disregarded the FRAUD that occurred. They don't want anyone to READ THE DOCUMENTS IN THE FILE. County DEH reported a discrepancy - DEH observed (or if you believe a different document in file - Consultant told DEH) that some or all (again depending on which of the documents in file you believe) passed the percolation test. But DEH reported that they observed all lots to be failing. Gee- which it? Pass or Fail? But more importantly, whose wrong- and who committed fraud? Obviously someone is lying. Ah yes, the definition of fraud - willfully misrepresenting the truth. Oh well this is Santa Clara County and apparently this Board of Supervisor's isn't going to hold anyone accountable for mistakes. Sorry San Martin. You loose.