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Town, Muslims work to reopen Bethpage mosque

With legal and public arguments behind them, the Town of Oyster Bay and leaders of a shuttered Bethpage mosque say they're now making real progress toward reopening the house of worship.

The mosque, Masjid al-Baqi, obtained permits late last month for work the town said is needed to grant a certificate of occupancy. The mosque, operated out of a converted restaurant, was cited with numerous electrical and plumbing violations last summer.

"I think they're really trying to work together, both sides," Steven Morelli, a Garden City attorney representing the mosque, said this week. "It seems there is a shot that this could be resolved amicably."

Town inspectors visited the Central Avenue mosque after receiving complaints from area residents. Mosque leaders have questioned the residents' motives, coming on the heels of several high-profile mosque oppositions nationwide, as well as the town's timing in closing its doors just before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Inspectors found code violations - identified only as "electrical and plumbing" - and a violation of town rules requiring houses of worship to occupy at least one acre of land. The mosque occupies one-sixth of an acre, including a parking lot.

The town issued its summons closing the mosque July 29. Masjid al-Baqi's leaders asked the State Supreme Court in Mineola to stay the closure. On Sept. 1, a judge denied the request, and the two sides agreed to discuss ways to reopen the mosque.

Since then, Fred Ippolito, Oyster Bay's planning and development commissioner, said the relationship has been "excellent." He said his staff is waiting as the needed work is done to the mosque. "They'll call for the inspection when it's all done," he said. "We're not down there watching."

If code issues are resolved, the mosque could receive a certificate of occupancy. But the town's acreage guidelines would require a zoning variance.

"We haven't crossed that second hurdle yet," Morelli said.

Ippolito said discovery of the mosque's violations has not led the town to conduct a comprehensive code inspection and land-use review for all places of worship. "We don't go looking for problems," he said. "We only act and react, either to the obvious or to the complaints we receive."

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