After hours of contentious public comment, a New York City community board voted late Tuesday to support a plan to build a mosque and cultural center near ground zero.
"It's a seed of peace," board member Rob Townley said. "We believe that this is significant step in the Muslim community to counteract the hate and fanaticism in the minority of the community."
The vote was 29-to-1 in favor of the plan, with 10 abstentions. The move by the Manhattan Community Board 1, while not necessary for the building's owners to move forward with the project, is seen as key to obtaining residents' support.
Some board members wanted to postpone a vote until the next meeting to gather more information about the project and the organizations sponsoring it. But the motion failed.
The meeting was unruly, with project opponents jeering at speakers and yelling comments such as "You're building over a Christian cemetery!" while holding signs that read, "Show respect for 3000," among other things.
Many said they were not opposed to a mosque — just not one that's two blocks from ground zero.
The families of Sept. 11 victims "would be wounded by erecting a mega mosque so close to the place where their loved ones were massacred," said Viviana Hernandez, a chaplain. "Even though they may have altruistic reasons, the real terrorists will see it as a win on their side."
Tea party activist Mark Williams has called the proposed center a monument to the terror attacks.
The organizations sponsoring the project said they are trying to establish a vibrant and inclusive-world class facility.
Plans for the Cordoba House include a performing arts center, swimming pool, culinary school, child care facilities and worship space.
It would provide 150 full-time jobs, 500 part-time jobs and an investment in more than $100 million in infrastructure in the city's financial district, according to Daisy Khan, spokeswoman for the Cordoba House.
Khan's husband, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, executive director of the Cordoba Initiative, one of the project's sponsors, said he understood the pain that people have about 9/11. But he said his community and congregation were among those that died in the attacks.
"We have condemned the terror of 9/11," he said. "We have worked to ensure that our mosques are not recruiting grounds for terrorists."
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said in a statement that by supporting the multi-faith community and cultural center, the board "sent a clear message that our city is one that promotes diversity and tolerance."
Stringer has been the target of disparaging remarks by Williams for supporting the plans and has defended his position and denounced offensive speech directed at him or at Muslims.
He said before the vote that he understood the sensitivities of the families of 9/11 victims.
"I don't think anybody wants to do anything to disrespect those families. They made the ultimate sacrifice," he said. "At the same time, we have to balance diversity and look for opportunities to bring different groups together."
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said there were no security concerns about building a mosque in the area.
The American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative have said that they bought the building in 2009 and planned to break ground later this year. It could take up to three years to build the Cordoba House. A Friday prayer service has been held at the building since September 2009.
Besides the political and social opposition to the project, city officials say the plan also could be hindered by a decades-old proposal to give landmark status to a building that would be replaced by the mosque and center.
City officials say the current building, constructed between 1857 and 1858 in the Italian Renaissance palazzo style, is historically and architecturally significant.
Bruce Wallace, who lost a nephew on 9/11, said the center can change the misperceptions about Islam.
"The moderate Muslim voice has been squashed in America," he said. "Here is a chance to allow moderate Muslims to teach people that not all Muslims are terrorists."
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