Get the facts, understand how concerns are being addressed
As with any development project, questions were raised by some of the neighboring community regarding various traffic volumes, parking capacity, noise and light, and potential impacts to the environment during and after construction.
With our professional consultants, UWMS has undertaken extensive traffic studies at multiple points of time using multiple methods (e.g., manual turn counts and automated traffic recorders). Measurements were also taken after the establishment of the Amsterdam Park ballfields to account for the potential added traffic from the park. The Town Board required us to measure traffic for peak periods, thus estimating the worst-case traffic impact. Despite this, the studies showed that all measured intersections remain at level-of-service “B” or better throughout the projected period to 2018. An “A” or “B” level-of-service, according to North American traffic engineering standards, signifies “free flow” or “reasonably free flow,” respectively (the scale is “A” to “F”).
Parking is naturally a concern for those living close to the proposed Islamic Center. The site plan has been designed to accommodate varying activity levels while limiting the environmental impact of paved surfaces on the site. In the standard configuration, there are 170 parking spaces in the site plan, with a portion fully paved, and the remainder using a porous surface to maximize drainage. This number of spaces is more than adequate for the current and projected weekly Friday prayer and weekend school. For the two major holidays, the plan calls for tandem parking supporting about 217 spaces to accommodate the expected number of cars on site. This was done to avoid the alternative of having to tansport community members from off-site locations using buses, etc. which would further disrupt the neighbors. It also removes the need for street parking. As the Muslim community in Westchester grows, we expect that new centers will be established to serve those living nearby.
Building size and fit
The proposed Islamic Center is approximately 25K sq ft. on a 8.3 acre property. Consider the examples of two other Town houses of worship in residential zoned neighborhoods. Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester is a newly expanded facility of 36K sq ft on a 6.1 acre property. The First Congregational Church of Chappaqua is 19K sq ft set on a 7.64 acre property. These two centers have similar facilities to those planned by UWMS, fewer parking spaces, and a larger current membership. Yet, they manage to coexist with the neighboring residences in relative harmony. The UWMS Islamic Center has been designed with great care to offer aesthetic appeal while avoiding to appear incongruous. In particular the design takes advantage of the site topography to remain a substantially one-story building when viewed from the road. Furthermore, no variances from Town codes were required for the size, height, or other aspects of the building.
Wetlands and drainage
Wetlands play an important role in groundwater resources and some have raised concerns about the impact to wetlands on the site from the proposed center. The fact is that the site plan has been carefully designed not to have any direct impact on wetlands. The wetlands are surrounded by a 150-ft buffer that comprises approximately 4.6 acres. While the current site plan does encroach on roughly 2 acres of the wetland buffer (not the wetlands themselves), it is also a fact that the current structures on the property already encroach on 1.8 acres of the wetland buffer area. Hence, the site plan only encroaches on additional 15% of the wetland buffer. Furthermore, the site plan actually improves the wetlands on site through restoration and plantings that will improve roughly 3.5 acres of the wetlands area.
Septic system capacity
As per Town codes, the on-site septic system is designed to be 100% redundant to guard against the unlikely event of failure. It should also be noted that the septic system is not expected to see significant usage. Most of the community comes to the center with ablutions already performed (a requirement before prayer), and typically minimize restroom usage. Some questions were raised regarding the adequacy of the septic system based on the understanding that 650 people would be using the center year-round (i.e., the way a typical family uses a residential septic system). In fact, there will be only be 650 people at the center for roughly 4 hours out of the entire year. During the rest of the year, the only significant usage would be on Fridays for the congregational prayer in which only a portion of worshippers will make their ablutions at the center.
As Muslims are a relatively young faith community in Westchester, it is not surprising that there is not a mosque in every township. While we may have several churches and synagogues in each locality, the same is not yet true of mosques. And church or synagogue attendees certainly do not stick only to their local institutions. Furthermore, questions have been raised about the (relatively small) impact on the Town tax revenue. Every religious institution in Westcheser benefits from the same exemption (even if they serve out-of-town congregants). The law grants these exemptions on the basis of the valuable community service provided by houses of worship.