GEORGIA: Fight against mosque expansion heats up again

They already voted to deny the mosque expansion, why is this an issue again?

CBS Altanta  Opponents of a plan to expand a Lilburn mosque are gearing up for another fight. Monday night they plan to show up at the city council meeting to speak out against a zoning request that would pave the way for the Dar E Abbas mosque to start new construction.

“We want our neighborhoods to stay like they are. These people up at the mosque have plenty of opportunity to go ahead and build and expand next door where that property is already zoned C-1 C-2 commercial,” said Angel Alonso, who opposes the expansion.

Opponents of the zoning request say the expansion would bring unwanted traffic and congestion to their neighborhood. “We don’t want it down in our neighborhood. It don’t matter if it’s a Baptist church or catholic church, we don’t care. It’s not about the religion, its all about the building,” said Alonso.

The dispute has been going on for more than a year. The mosque sued the city after its city council would not grant the zoning change. Shortly after the Department of Justice announced it was looking into that decision, the city said it would take another look at the zoning request. Members of Dar E Abbas declined to speak about the dispute on advice from their attorney. The attorney representing the mosque was also unavailable.

Some residents opposed to a mosque expansion on Hood Road say for the past seven months, they’ve been the frequent targets of harassment, mostly by those they describe as “Middle Eastern men.”

Janie Hood, with her 15-year-old grandson Jesse Nichols, says she carries a gun for protection because she is being harassed.

AJC   Residents have reported vehicles traveling the road at night with occupants yelling, making obscene gestures, snapping photos, even confronting two women in their driveway. Since November, when city leaders ruled against a local Muslim congregation’s plans to expand, the Lilburn Police Department has received 21 calls of suspicious activity along Hood Road.

Wasi Zaidi, a founding member of the Muslim congregation of Dar-E-Abbas, said residents’ claims are “all lies and B.S.,” trumped up by a handful of people who have a political ax to grind against the mayor and the Police Department.

Still, residents say, the harassment is real. Some have installed security camera systems. Others are carrying guns. “A lot of people are locked and loaded because they don’t know what’s going to happen,” resident Angel Alonso, 46, said. “We have a feeling somebody is going to get hurt.”

Residents say the harassment started Nov. 18, the same day the Lilburn City Council rejected the congregation’s proposal for a 20,000-square-foot mosque, cemetery and gym at U.S. 29 and Hood Road. The council’s decision has since sparked a federal religious discrimination lawsuit against the city.

In November, more than 400 residents packed the Gwinnett County courthouse to protest the rezoning. They argued it would pose traffic and parking problems and run afoul of the city’s land-use plan.

After the meeting in Lawrenceville, resident Janie Hood said she was followed and boxed in on U.S. 29 by a van and sport utility vehicle full of “Middle Eastern” males, according to a police report. Now the 56-year-old Hood, whose father and grandfather built Hood Road, won’t sleep at her house at night, not since an attempted break-in in late December, she said. And on April 23, Hood said five vehicles pulled in front of her property. Two to three men exited and approached, according to a police report. Hood’s daughter, Christi Nichols, who feared for her safety, grabbed a firearm and told the men to leave, the report said.

Zaidi, of the Muslim congregation, said the 90-plus families who worship at the mosque have “nothing to do with this.” “They’re saying the mayor isn’t doing her job, the police chief isn’t doing his job,” Zaidi said. “But if they falsely accuse us, we will sue them.”

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