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Proposed Islamic Center a needed house of worship, supporters say

A proposed mosque on Harrison Avenue drew support from local Muslims who packed a Riverhead Town Planning Board meeting Thursday night.

About 30 Muslims were in attendance, although only a few spoke. They say that Riverhead needs a mosque to accommodate the growing Muslim population in the area.

“I’ve lived in Flanders for the past 20 years, and there’s no mosque here,” said Yousef Mohamad. “We have a lot of Muslim people who have moved into Riverhead and Flanders. For the past 10 years, I take my kids all the way to Selden to the mosque there, because there’s nothing close here to teach them the language and the religion.”

The Riverhead Islamic Center is proposed for 1.5 acres at 751 Harrison Ave. A building currently on the property is boarded up and the proposal calls for it be renovated for use by the imam of the mosque, according to Charles Cuddy, the attorney for the applicants. That building will be approximately 1,800 square feet when it’s done. The mosque would be located in a second building, a two-story, 6,500-square-foot, masonry-type building, Mr. Cuddy said.

“I own a business here in Riverhead,” said a man who only identified himself as Malik. “I used to own a supermarket and I know all of my community … Every 7-Eleven or grocery store or gas station, they are all Muslim people.”

He said there also are a lot of Turkish people who are Muslims.

“It’s a very good thing,” he said of the mosque.

Manana Sweat, who owns a nearby home on Harrison Avenue, was not in favor of the mosque.

“I’m not against any religion,” she said, but added that she felt the mosque would increase traffic and hurt property values.

“Harrison Avenue is the worst street in the entire Town of Riverhead,” she said. “There’s too much commercial development around it and Route 58.”

Planning Board member Ed Densieski said a mosque isn’t a commercial use, and places of worship are allowed anywhere under town zoning.

“I understand that this lady is frustrated,” said Ali Hamdouchi, who supports the mosque. “This is going to be a house of God, for worship. I think it’s going to be good for her to have some peace and safety.”

He said the Muslim community is growing in Riverhead.

“We would like to see a mosque here,” he said.

Mr. Cuddy said more than half of the churches in Riverhead are in residential neighborhoods.

“And in each case, I think they have improved the residential area that they are in. I don’t see any area that has a church and is a rundown area. So I think this will be a benefit.”

The first floor of the mosque will have a men’s worship area and a women’s worship area, he said. The second floor will have kitchenette, a classroom and restrooms.

A driveway is proposed to the north of the property to avoid congestion with the school traffic from Riverhead High School. Mr. Cuddy said the most significantly attended prayer day is Friday with 40 to 50 people. It will be over by about 2 p.m., he said.

The proposed parking lot would have 65 spaces, far more than the 42 required, so that cars will be kept off the road, Mr. Cuddy said.

The Planning Board closed the public hearing, meaning it will not take any additional comments. The board did not vote on the proposal.

The next Planning Board meeting is 3 p.m. Aug. 16 in Town Hall.

Photo caption: Ali Hamdouchi speaks in  favor of a mosque in Riverhead. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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