The board of supervisors last week upheld the planning commission’s approval of a mosque in the unincorporated county area north of Chino and south of Montclair. The board is allowing the project to proceed with the apparent agreement that the property upon which the mosque sits will be annexed into the city of Chino.
The county planning commission by a 4-1 vote on December 8, 2011 granted a conditional use permit for the 7,512-square foot Al-Nur Islamic Center, a two-story facility on 1.54 acres at 4797 Phillips Blvd, on the south side of the street roughly 330 feet east of Yorba Avenue. At that hearing, 19 people spoke or registered their opposition to the proposed project, and 42 people spoke or registered in favor.
Rashid Ahmed, chairman of the Al-Nur Islamic Center, applied on March 12, 2010 for a permit that would provide for the establishment of a 16,763 square foot structure that was to include a variety of ancillary uses such as a caretaker’s unit, a multipurpose hall, senior citizen activity center, senior citizen library, kitchen, health clinic, and nine classrooms. According to Christine Kelly, the director of the county’s land use services department, that “proposal was unable to meet all of the required development standards and was reduced to the current proposal. The site is currently developed with an existing single-family home that was originally proposed as a caretaker’s unit, but will now be demolished as part of the proposal to accommodate the structure and the required parking. The proposed facility includes a 1,836 square-foot prayer hall, with a maximum occupancy of 262 persons, which will be utilized for daily prayers during the hours of: 5 a.m.– 6 a.m., 1 p.m.– 2 p.m., 3 p.m.– 4 p.m., 6 p.m.– 7 p.m., and 8 p.m.– 9 p.m.
The maximum occupancy is expected only once a week, on Friday from 12 p.m.– 2 p.m. when congregation and prayer are held. In addition to the prayer hall, there are to be approximately 1,000 square feet of lobby area, a 257 square foot library/youth center, and restrooms on the first floor. The second floor will consist of a 133 square foot office and four classrooms totaling approximately 700 square feet, which will not be occupied during religious activities in the main prayer hall. Special events will take place on an occasional basis and may also involve maximum occupancy. The mosque office will be staffed by a maximum of two employees from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m.– 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.
Kelly recommended that the board of supervisors deny the appeal of the planning commission approval.
Kelly’s recommendation and the board of supervisors’ vote in accordance with that recommendation did not absolutely redress a major objection raised by the appellants, which pertained to sanitation and potential contamination of the groundwater at and around the project site.
The appellants contended that the parcel size cannot support an on-site septic system that can accommodate the proposed intensity of use and that existing sewer service providers in the general area, i.e., the cities of Montclair and Chino, have not been willing to allow the project to hook-up to the nearby sewer systems. The appellants were supported by the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, which sent correspondence to the county indicating that the septic system on the 1.54 acres did not supply adequate effluent processing capability to accommodate the 262 person capacity of the house of worship. Kelly, however, said that there was a potential that the property could be annexed into the city of Chino, which would thus allow for the project’s plumbing to be hooked up to the sewer system.
“The site is currently developed with a single-family residence that utilizes an existing septic system,” Kelly told the board in a report dated February 28. At the time of the planning commission hearing, the applicant was proposing to utilize an on-site wastewater treatment system. Since that time, the county received correspondence from the city of Chino, the sphere of influence for which covers the project site. In her report, Kelly said, “On February 11, 2011, the city of Chino submitted a letter to the county indicating that there is an existing sewer line at the intersection of Yorba Avenue and Francis Avenue, located southwest of the project site. In order for the project to receive service from the city of Chino, an application would need to be submitted to the Local Agency Formation Commission, and an irrevocable agreement to annex to the city of Chino would also need to be recorded. Additionally, the applicant would need to construct the necessary facilities to connect to the existing sewer. This is a condition of approval and is an issue that would need to be resolved with environmental health services prior to issuance of a building permit.”
In this way, annexation of the property by the city of Chino appears to be a requirement, although that was not explicitly stated by the board.
The appellants further contended that landscaping of 1.2 acres of the site would create run-off onto properties downhill of the subject property and create additional flooding on Phillips Blvd. and Yorba Ave., which is already overwhelmed during significant storm events due to a lack of storm drains in the area. County staff, however, maintains that the site design includes on-site infiltration/retention basins within the landscape areas, as well as a vegetated swale, and all drainage is directed towards these areas, such that “it is not expected that there will be any run-off entering the storm drain system, or that will adversely affect adjacent or downstream properties during post construction operation.”
The appellants also charged that the project will intrude on the peaceful, rural nature of the neighborhood, will increase traffic, entail a glut of parked cars and architecture that is outside the character of and will tower over the surrounding single family homes. The county land use division said that under the county’s development code, places of worship are allowed in residential land use zoning districts, that the originally proposed 16,763 square foot building has been reduced to 7,512 square feet, will included a minimum 20 percent landscaping on site, and that the inhabitable portion of the structure will reach no higher than 35 feet, with a 52.5 foot-high architectural feature, which is allowed for religious institutions by the San Bernardino Development Code.
The county’s traffic engineer has accepted the inclusion of 88 parking spaces at the site, and proposed access entering and exiting the project site be limited to right turn only, such that the project will be outfitted with the appropriate signage regarding turning movements entering or leaving the site. The county is also requiring that the parking area located adjacent to residentially developed properties will be provided with a minimum 10-foot wide landscaped setback in conjunction with a maximum six-foot high decorative block wall to provide buffering between the mosque and the existing residences, which will shield the adjacent properties from any headlights from cars exiting or entering the site.
Supervisor Gary Ovitt, in whose Fourth District the project site is located, was the lone board vote against upholding the previous planning commission approval of the project. He said he was opposed to the project because of the opposition to it by several of his constituents.
The mosque’s supporters said those opposed to the project were anti-Muslim.