HENRICO, Va. – At its meeting tonight, the Henrico County Board of Supervisors will take up Sylvia Hoehns Wright’s appeal of the county Planning Commission’s approval of a plan for a mosque on Hungary Road.
Henrico’s county attorney, Joseph P. Rapisarda Jr., and county Planning Department Director R. Joseph Emerson Jr. have recommended that the board deny the appeal. That would clear the way for the Islamic Center of Richmond to move ahead with construction plans for the mosque.
“We reviewed the facts of the case,” Emerson said, “and determined that the Planning Commission made the correct decision” when it approved in a 5-0 vote the plan of development for a two-story, 30,277-square-foot mosque with a day care center and school on a 5.2-acre tract on Hungary Road opposite its intersection with Wilshire Drive.
In the agenda posted online for tonight’s meeting, the county answers three issues raised in Wright’s appeal.
She questions whether the mosque’s parking capacity is adequate. The county posting points out that the plan provides for 128 parking spaces, more than the required 93.
In particular, she asks about parking during construction of the mosque. The county says that issue must be addressed in the construction plans that will be submitted.
She asks about fencing and landscaping to reduce the impact of light and noise from the mosque. The county notes that the plan of development requires approval of plans for landscaping and lighting before a certificate of occupancy is issued.
The Islamic Center currently conducts worship in a former residence on the property. Last month, Wright aired complaints that even with the much smaller makeshift house of worship, there are times when vehicles spill out from the property, parking on land not owned by the center. In at least one case, she said, the drive she and other neighbors use was blocked.
She renewed those complaints Monday, repeating her contention that the mosque needs to hire professional traffic control.
She said the mosque’s leadership knows about her complaints. “They say they’re going to do better,” she said, “but the problems persist. … There is significant room for improvement.”
Wright is also among those circulating a petition asking the county to revisit the zoning requirements for places of worship. She said current requirements don’t anticipate the daily use of a mosque with multiple prayer services.
The Hungary Road mosque would be the second in Henrico. Builders recently broke ground on construction of a 10,500-square-foot mosque on 3.6 acres on Impala Drive at its intersection with Hilliard Road.
Imad Damaj, president of the Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs, said his organization estimates that there are about 15,000 practicing members of the faith in the region — enough to warrant new mosques in Henrico.
Another group is planning a third Henrico mosque, for the Short Pump area, but has not yet submitted plans to the county for approval.
“It’s a matter of convenience and geography,” Damaj said, pointing out that Muslims, like Christians, want their places of worship to be part of their own communities.
Damaj said the actions of Wright and other neighbors are not being seen as hostile.
“It’s a process,” he said. “Neighbors have the right to appeal. … Close neighbors are worried about the volume of cars. Members of the mosque realize these are neighbors and will be neighbors going forward.”
In 2008, Henrico supervisors turned down a rezoning request for Impala Drive mosque. The group planning to build that mosque sued the county, and the U.S. Department of Justice initiated a civil rights investigation.
Eventually, the suit was dismissed at the request of both the county and the group planning the mosque, and the county approved a new rezoning request.
The county also revised its requirements, making it easier to qualify to build a place of worship. Henrico also changed its ordinance language. For example, the word “church” was replaced with “place of worship”; “church spires” was replaced with “spires, minarets or other architectural features.”
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