ALPHARETTA, Ga. – The Alpharetta City Council “reluctantly” approved the expansion of the Islamic Center of North Fulton at their Sept. 23 meeting.
In a unanimous vote, councilmembers said the new proposal – for a 7,900-square-foot footprint in two buildings – fit better with the area than the center’s proposal five years ago.
In 2008, the ICNF wanted to expand their mosque and community center from 2,500 square feet to 19,000 square feet. Council denied them based on zoning, claiming the proposal was too large for the already-busy Rucker Road and an area surrounded by neighborhoods. The ICNF took the city to court, alleging their denial violated the center’s religious rights.
The city was ultimately successful in defending itself, however the ICNF appealed the ruling to a higher court. This court demanded both parties come to an agreement both could live with, otherwise it would decide for them.
The result was the 7,900-square-foot proposal with a litany of conditions for approval, including a condition forbidding expansion for a further 15 years.
Both the planning commission and city staff gave their approval to the proposal.
A large part of the contention revolved around agreements the ICNF entered into in 1998 and 2004. The mosque was formed on the property in 1998 in what was then unincorporated Fulton County with the agreement that it would not expand for 15 years.
In 2004, its leadership entered into an agreement with surrounding neighbors not to expand its footprint.
It was primarily based on this broken promise – along with traffic concerns – that residents opposed any expansion.
“If you want to be treated like everyone else, you need to act like everyone else,” said Councilmember Mike Kennedy, who motioned for approval, “reluctantly.”
He noted a recent hearing before the council of a church that wanted to install an LED sign. However, this was in violation of city code and was denied.
“They did not ask for special dispensation; they didn’t run off to a federal appeals court,” Kennedy said.
The threat of going back to the courts and the city possibly losing on appeal forced council to accept what Kennedy said was the “best deal they can get.”
Councilmember D.C. Aiken agreed.
“This city has expended a ton of money defending this, successfully,” Aiken said. “Do I want to leave it up to three federal judges? I’m not willing to risk that for our citizens.”
Council said, despite the past, the 7,900-square-foot project was the best the city would get and, as Councilmember Michael Cross said, is “something I can live with.”