HENRICO, VA (WWBT) – The Muslim community won a major victory Tuesday night as the Henrico Board of Supervisors approved a plan to build a mosque in the county's west end.
This controversial board meeting lasted more than three hours and at times included outbursts, applause and a lecture from the county manager. The vote was unanimous. All five supervisors could not find a compelling reason to reject the rezoning request that would allow the Muslim community to build the mosque.
Officials had to base their decision on a federal law that prohibits government from imposing a substantial burden on religious exercise. The journey to this approval has been a long one. The land on Impala Drive off Hilliard Road, where the 10,000 sq ft mosque would go, has been vacant for more than twenty years. The county rejected a similar proposal back in 2008.
The public comment section of this meeting lasted hours, with those speaking for the plan out numbering those opposed more than two to one.
"You do the right thing," said Sam Ward who supports the plan. "Do the American thing. Approve the mosque and approve the American tradition of freedom of religion."
Many residents who live near the site voiced concern about traffic, the building design and adding more people to the area.
"If it was a church I would say the same thing," explained Scott Benton who spoke in opposition. "If it was a fire station I'd say the same thing. Don't build a 10,000 sq ft fire station in my alley."
You may remember there were some heated moments at last month's planning commission meeting when the talk turned to fears of religious extremism. Tuesday night, County Manager Virgil Hazelett stopped one member of the public from going in that direction.
After very little discussion by board members, they approved the plan unanimously.
"Even with the traffic that's there, it is not considered a compelling reason to deny this case," said Supervisor Richard Glover.