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Plan for Concord’s first permanent mosque gets zoning approval

  • The main prayer room, one of the two rooms continually rented by the Islamic Society of Greater Concord, is seen at East Concord Community Center on Wednesday night, May 31, 2017. An additional room is rented every Friday afternoon and for special events to accommodate additional members. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz



Monitor staff
Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Concord’s zoning board unanimously approved plans Wednesday for what could become the city’s first permanent mosque.

The Islamic Society of Greater Concord hopes to move out of its rented space on Eastman Street and into a vacant industrial building at 181 N. Main St. It would also buy and demolish an adjacent house at 9 Pearl St. to make space for parking.

When the application was first heard at the zoning board in June, it was tabled, pending further study on the impacts it may have on parking and traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Islamic society President Hubert Mask returned Wednesday with traffic engineer Stephen Pernaw, who conducted a study at the board’s request.

“To me, it really gets down to the parking issue, and I think they’ve addressed that,” board member Jim Marshall said after an hourlong hearing.

According to the amount of worship space the mosque would have, the city requires 47 parking spaces. Its plans provide 16 on site, and it has a written agreement with the First Congregational Church next door to use its 36-space lot during the mosque’s busiest hours.

Pernaw said he observed a peak of 31 cars at the mosque’s current location during one of its busy Friday prayer services about 1 p.m. During that time, the church’s lot is usually nearly empty, with one to three cars, he said, noting that the timing of the mosque’s peak demand makes it a “unique case” that doesn’t intersect with rush hour.

During the public comment session, there remained some opposition to the perceived effect it would have on the nearby residential neighborhood and the skinny, one-way streets that service the parking lots, Washington and Pearl.

John LeBrun of Loudon took exception to the mosque’s prediction that it would need to park only 10 more cars than its current peak – for a total of 41 – a decade from now.

“This is not believable,” he said. “Only one vehicle increase per year in 10 years? That’s incredible.”

LeBrun also questioned what would happen if the mosque reconfigured its planned layout to be able to accommodate significantly more worshippers.

Zoning Administrator Craig Walker said such a change would warrant the applicant returning to the zoning board.

“If they become hugely successful and double or triple their congregation and have to change their meeting room space, then they’ll have to come back before us,” Marshall said.

Resident Mark Dunn, a real estate attorney, suggested that the parking agreement between the church and the mosque would be more permanent if it were recorded as an easement.

“I think the agreement is a little wishy-washy. It’d be nicer to see it as an easement,” he said.

Board member James Monahan recommended in a motion that was ultimately approved that the agreement be recorded as is with the registry of deeds.

The Islamic society’s proposal will next go before the planning board for a site plan review.

Mask, the president, has said Muslims come from as far away as Littleton and Lebanon for the society’s busiest Friday prayers. The planned move would alleviate the headaches of operating out of a rented space and provide more room for a classroom, offices and separate prayer areas for men and women.

Currently, Mask said, the imam has nowhere to meet privately with congregants, and the board of directors has no fixed place to store the society’s documents.

“The board members wouldn’t have to walk around with the entire paperwork of the Islamic society in a briefcase,” he said.

The 181 N. Main St. property that the mosque hopes to buy has been on the market for more than four years. Without a plan such as the mosque’s to buy an adjacent parcel, it has no road frontage, only an easement to North Main Street.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at
@NickBReid.)