The New Castle Planning Board wants the Upper Westchester Muslim Society to look at ways of mitigating traffic and parking issues for its proposed West End mosque.
Board Chair Richard Brownell, at a Tuesday work session, said that off-site parking ought to be explored as an alternative, explaining it would be “to deal with peak crowds, you know, for those days where that made sense.”
Brownell also suggested that, by doing so, the group could limit the number of vehicle trips that involve delivering fill to the site during construction.
The highest-turnout events are two holidays, Eid Ul Fitr and Eid Ul Adha. In its draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the mosque, UWMS stated that two days would mean using all 217 spots on site, with tandem and valet parking used for efficiency. About 650 people are projected to attend each event.
Residents who live near the site due to fears that traffic could overwhelm their neighborhood, which they feel could lose its rural character.
The proposed 24,690 square-foot mosque would be located at 130 Pinesbridge Rd. UWMS wants a new facility because existing rental space in Thornwood is cramped and does not suit the congregation's needs.
Board member Tom Curley, who in late July, suggested that UWMS should provide traffic numbers for all 30 days of Ramadan, Islam's holy month. Currently, UWMS gives a single projection number for Ramadan traffic, with 151 spots being used and turnout of roughly 200 people.
Curley felt that that having the data could help for understanding the magnitude, and for purposes of possible mitigation on site or other alternatives.
Having a lot of traffic data is important, Curley explained.
“It’s extremely helpful for the various uses on the property.”
Brownell, doing a recap from , also noted that the board would like UWMS to consider shifting the building to another section of the property as a way to address the entry and exit for the site's road; queuing of vehicles is something the board frowns upon. However, he acknowledged that moving the building could bring it further in the wetland buffer for the site, which is 8.33 acres.
The board, wrapping up, voted to pre-approve an advisory memo that will give its feedback for the proposal to the Zoning Board of Appeals. It is subject to potential further revision. The ZBA is the lead agency for the enviromental review of the mosque, and will ultimately have to decide whether to approve a special permit for the project. Further down the line, the planning board would need to approve a series of environmental permits.
The ZBA, after keeping open a public hearing this summer for the DEIS, , but to continue accepting written comment on the document until Aug. 24. In the meantime, New Castle's Architectural Review Board will have its own advisory discussion at its Aug. 15 meeting.
Officials on behalf of UWMS who were at the meeting were pleased.
Dr. Ali Javed, who chairs the UWMS board, said they will respond to the comments.
Michael Zarin, a lawyer for UWMS, did not feel that the feedback from the board was unexpected.
“There was nothing raised tonight that hasn’t been raised before and we’ve already begun responding to those comments.”
UWMS will be working on responses to the DEIS, and will eventually include them in a final environmental impact statement (FEIS), which Zarin believes could happen in a few months. In terms of the ZBA's environmental review, they can have the FEIS undergo revisions before it is legally deemed to be "complete." They can get public comment for it, according to state law, and once the FEIS review is done, the board members will make a findings statement about the mosque's enviromental impact. A special permit decision would follow.