One South Bay mosque won't be allowed to expand – at least under the plan it presented to the Lomita City Council last night. After hearing nearly five hours of testimony, the Lomita City Council voted unanimously to not allow for zoning changes that would have paved the way for the Islamic Center of the South Bay to build a new mosque on its site next to a residential neighborhood.
Some supporters said religion played into the decision to deny the expansion.
"I'm sorry to hear from my neighbors that we are the bad people – my respected neighbors, living at our place for the last 25 years," said Lomita resident and mosque member Amirbhai Mahida, choking back tears as he testified before a crowd of about 150 people. "We have not harmed you physically, socially or individually. All of a sudden, we become the bad person because we have [a] dream to build our center."
But City Councilman Tim King says religion had nothing to do with the decision.
"It was the nature of the structure and the placement of the structure and the code changes that would be required to allow that structure to be placed on that property," King said after the packed hearing.
He said changing the zoning to allow the mosque expansion would have set a precedent for future development.
Supporters of the mosque say they need a nicer place to worship.
But many neighbors worried the mosque expansion wouldn't fit into the neighborhood and would bring more traffic.
"This doesn't have anything to do with their religion or their people group," said Henry Sanchez, who's lived in his Lomita home near the mosque for more than 30 years. He agreed with the city council that this was strictly a zoning decision.
"All it has to do with is the size and the scope of this building that they want to build in our neighborhood. It just doesn't fit into the residential neighborhood. It is too big. It's 170 feet long, 92 feet wide and 35 feet high," said Sanchez.
The city council vote allows the mosque to come back with another plan.
One member of a local interfaith council pointed out that while he supports the mosque, he understands the frustration of the neighbors with traffic and parking issues. He said his own church – a Christian church – face a similar expansion issue a few years ago and ended up moving to an industrial area to keep peace with the neighbors.