The Hillside Islamic Center in New Hyde Park wants to...

The Hillside Islamic Center in New Hyde Park wants to tear down a house located at 1046 2nd St. in order to put in an expanded parking lot. (Sept. 22, 2010) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

New Hyde Park residents, upset a proposed parking lot for the Hillside Islamic Center could cause traffic and decrease property values among other issues, found themselves having to defend their objections as not being anti-Muslim at a zoning appeals hearing Wednesday.

The center has asked the Town of North Hempstead's Board of Zoning Appeals for a variance to convert residential property into a parking lot that would create 18 spaces.

Attorney Raymond Smolenski, who represents the center, told the board that the center wants to build the lot to be good neighbors by preventing worshipers from parking in front of homes.

It's the latest trouble facing local mosques. Masjid al-Baqi in Bethpage remains shuttered after Town of Oyster Bay officials closed it shortly before Ramadan began last month. Town inspectors - acting on complaints from Bethpage residents about a second proposed mosque - found Masjid al-Baqi didn't have a valid certificate of occupancy or permits for plumbing and electrical work.

Eddie Weiss, among the more than 100 community members who attended Wednesday's meeting in Manhasset, said objections to the lot have nothing to do with religion.

"All are welcome in New Hyde Park," said Weiss, whose backyard is next to the proposed lot. "It's a diverse community."

The variance would depreciate home values, Weiss and others said, and leave residents to worry whether the center would expand further and build more lots in a residential area.

Abdul Aziz Bhuiyan, a member of the center's board of directors, told the board they care about the neighborhood and want to alleviate the parking problem, especially since some residents put cones in front of their homes to prevent worshipers from parking there.

"Their concerns are our concerns," he said.

Christopher Liccardo, the only member of the community not affiliated with the center to speak in favor of the lot, said residents tend to be possessive of parking in front of their homes.

"More parking should relieve the tension," he said. "People don't want change. They fear change. . . . Let us not forget, they are coming for worship."

It could be 60 days before the board makes a decision. Smolenski said if the board rejects the lot, worshipers will continue to park on the street.

With Nomaan Merchant

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