By Erika Webb
DeBary will be home to Volusia's second Islamic mosque. The City Council voted unanimously at its March 6 meeting to follow a staff recommendation to grant a special zoning exception to the Islamic Center of Deltona Inc. for a house of worship at 420 Summerhaven Drive.
The approval came with two conditions and more than a few dissenting viewpoints.
The amendments to Councilman Dan Hunt's motion to approve the recommendation included the center providing off-site parking for any overflow and having a police officer on duty during Friday afternoon services.
The center's request listed customary accessory uses for houses of worship, including prayer/worship areas, offices, kitchen/snack room, religious education classrooms and a food pantry to store food for the needy.
Several DeBary residents asked the council to deny the special exception request, expressing concerns about potential for increased traffic, parking overflow and expansion.
The Islamic Center of Deltona bought the two-and-a-half story building on two parcels in December for $430,000.
The property is zoned B-4 -- general commercial, which permits uses that include retail sales and service, veterinary clinics, general and professional offices and restaurants. The zoning designation permits houses of worship as a special exception use.
On Feb. 27, the DeBary Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the special exception request subject to the condition of no outside amplification of sound.
Customarily there is a call to prayer, or Adhaan, before each Islamic prayer service.
A traffic impact analysis conducted by Lassiter Transportation Group, a consultant for the city, determined "the proposed special exception is not anticipated to negatively affect traffic patterns" and "the house of worship will result in fewer daily trips compared with other uses permitted in the B-4 zoning district and its peak period for traffic is outside the peak period of other adjacent uses."
The planning and zoning commission also found the criteria for off-street parking requirements -- one space for every 50 square feet of seating area where there are no fixed seats -- is met. The proposed mosque's worship area totals 936 feet, requiring 19 parking spaces. The property has 39 existing spaces -- 37 standard and two handicap spaces.
Members of the Islamic faith are required to pray five times daily -- dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall-- but supporters assured the council that does not mean each worshipper goes to the mosque to perform every prayer.
Muslims attend their main worship service on Friday afternoons. In the case of the DeBary Masjid Maryam, or Mosque of Mary, the Friday sermon will start at 1:30 p.m. and end at 2:05 p.m.
President and co-founder of the Deltona Islamic Center, Riaz Qureshi, told the council he appreciates the greatness of this country and wants to give back.
Mr. Qureshi volunteers at Tomoka Correctional Institution and at the Volusia County Correctional Facility. He is a tax-paying business owner and, he said, his purpose is to build bridges -- not walls -- between Christians, Muslims and Jews.
"We look at the commonality among people, not the difference," Mr. Qureshi said. "This is my country. It's the country of my children who were born here and of my grandchildren. I am determined to protect this country from the radicals."
Councilman Nick Koval asked Mr. Qureshi how he anticipates managing potential congregational growth.
"From your lips to God's ears," Mr. Qureshi responded, grinning. "I'll buy 10 acres across the street in that subdivision and build a mega mosque."
His comments drew laughter even from some of the objectors.
Mr. Qureshi and other supporters told the council they have been holding prayer services at a friend's home in Deltona and the number of people in attendance never exceeds 30; neighbors have not complained and law enforcement has never been summoned for any reason, including illegally parked vehicles.
"We are law-abiding citizens and we will follow the law to the dot of the i and the cross of the t," Mr. Qureshi said.
Vice Mayor Chris Carson said he wanted assurance that any possible growth would be accommodated with "other parking arrangements."
The application for special exception stated regular prayer sessions are anticipated to have four to six attendees and Friday services, 30-40.
"So if 41 people show up, you kick them out?" Vice Mayor Carson said. "I attend St. Annes Church and people park illegally every week."
Mr. Qureshi assured Mr. Carson the area's Muslim population is not growing like that of other faiths and that mosque leaders would "encourage people to carpool."
Several doctors who have practices nearby and see patients at Florida Hospital Fish Memorial in Orange City spoke in support of the mosque, saying unless they travel to Daytona Beach, Sanford or Longwood, they are unable to worship at Friday services.
Atif Fareed, chairman of the American Muslim Community Centers said, "The citizens of DeBary trust Muslim doctors with their lives and now those doctors who serve them will have a place nearby to offer their thanks to God Almighty."
In a phone interview the day after the meeting Mr. Fareed called Councilmen Koval, Carson, Hunt and Mayor Garcia "gentlemen," and he said the mayor called him earlier in the day to offer words of welcome.
Mr. Fareed and Mr. Qureshi each said they understood the council members' concerns for the community and its citizens. They are thankful that due process was followed.
Mr. Fareed cited a quote from Thomas Jefferson: "I am for freedom of religion, and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendency of one sect over another."