Appeals filed in response to mosque approval

Sal Akhter, project manager with the South Valley Islamic Community, speaks to the San Martin Planning Advisory Committee during a meeting Tuesday night at the Grange Hall in Morgan Hill about the proposed Cordoba Center.

Three parties, including the South Valley Islamic Community, have filed an appeal in response to the Santa Clara County planning commission’s decision to approve the Cordoba Center use permit with conditions in San Martin, according to county staff.

The San Martin Neighborhood Alliance, People’s Coalition for Government Accountability, and the developer of the proposed mosque and community center – the South Valley Islamic Community – each filed an appeal to the use permit and conditions Friday, according to county planner Bill Shoe.

The planning commission approved the Cordoba Center mosque, community center and cemetery at its regular meeting Aug. 2. Conditions attached to the permit include that the developer conduct more tests on the soil percolation rates on the property (which have already been completed), as well as the prohibition of commercial food and beverages and outdoor amplified music or broadcasting.

Shoe declined to summarize the reasons for the appeals cited by those who filed them Tuesday, as the documents were not yet available for public view.

Situated on a 15-acre property just north of the intersection of Monterey Road and California Avenue, the proposal includes two ranch-style structures – a prayer hall and a multi-purpose building – as well as a cemetery and open space.

SVIC spokesman Hamdy Abbass said the developer’s reason for the appeal was to allow more than four holiday or special events per year that can accommodate up to 150 people, and to allow the property to employ round-the-clock security.

The permit approved unanimously by the planning commission allows only up to four annual events that will attract 80 people at the proposed Cordoba Center, and prohibits overnight accommodations.

The SVIC said in its appeal letter that these conditions place “undue restrictions” on the developer, they were “not based on any factual data,” and are “contrary to the applicant’s original intent for the use of this religious facility.”

Instead, the SVIC wants to allow up to 150 people on the site on “any given day,” the appeal letter says.

“I’ve never heard of a church that (is restricted) to a limited time to open for festivities or holidays,” Abbass said.

Abbass added that the original traffic and septic system studies of the site support such a regular crowd.

Plus, allowing overnight accommodations would allow the Cordoba Center to employ security staff, which Abbass said is “essential” for the site.

Furthermore, the SVIC wants to modify its site plans to increase the size of the multi-purpose building from 2,800 square feet as proposed in their initial plans, to 5,000 square feet. With the mosque/prayer hall next door, that would place two 5,000-square-foot buildings on the property.

The appeal by the SMNA, filed by San Martin resident Sylvia Hamilton, repeats concerns uttered in meetings and interviews before the planning commission’s approval of the Cordoba Center, and to which the county responded by conducting environmental and traffic studies that have already disputed the concerns.

“The proposed project fails to comply with the relevant county plans, policies and regulations regarding proposed development in San Martin and should not have been approved by the planning commission,” the SMNA’s appeal letter says.

The SMNA lists a number of policies and guidelines from the county general plan, zoning ordinance, San Martin Integrated Design Plan and South County Joint Area Plan that it says the proposal is not in compliance with.

The SMNA’s appeal indicates the group is not satisfied with studies and reports already conducted on the site by the county and consultants that show the Cordoba Center will not have a significant impact on groundwater and storm runoff, and the site is suitable for a septic system.

The PCGA’s appeal, filed by Lucy Walsh, also repeats concerns it raised previously in the months leading up to the planning commission’s approval.

People’s Coalition for Government Accountability is a shadowy entity that has distributed literature opposing the project that is only tangentially aligned with the historical record, and until filing its appeal has not listed any names or contact information for people associated with the group.

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