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Babylon zoning board eyes variances for Islamic study group

The Babylon Town Zoning Board of Appeals is

The Babylon Town Zoning Board of Appeals is likely to deny the application by the United American Muslim Association of New York to operate a study program at this Little East Neck Road, West Babylon, house. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

A religious study program run by an Islamic group in a West Babylon house could close if the Babylon Town Zoning Board of Appeals denies the group’s application for variances, a move a town spokesman said is likely in coming weeks.

A town attorney will make written findings in contemplation of denial, with the board’s final decision expected later this month, town spokesman Kevin Bonner said.

“If the application is denied, the school would be required to close,” he said.

The United American Muslim Association of New York, a nonprofit that bills itself as the largest religious organization of Sunni Muslims in the United States, applied for permits last summer to use the first floor of a Little East Neck Road house for the program while keeping the second floor as a residence.

Stephen Kretz, a Lindenhurst lawyer representing the Association in its ZBA application, declined to comment, as did a woman who answered the door at the Little East Neck Road house. A spokesman for the group did not respond to a request for comment.

The wife of the association’s Dix Hills imam teaches afternoon classes for about seven or eight junior high and high school girls, according to ZBA records.

Zoning regulations do not permit mixed use for properties in the residential neighborhood, so the group needed variances, according to the town.

Bonner said the ZBA bases its findings for the use variances that the association was requesting on whether the applicant can prove there is no other financially feasible use for the property than what they are proposing.

Some neighbors had opposed the application for reasons ranging from traffic to concerns about terrorism since a planning board hearing last summer, records show.

For example, Charles and Janet Frey last summer wrote to Town Supervisor Richard Schaffer and the town planning board that the “Muslim House of Worship” could become a target or a recruiting ground for radicals.

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life puts the number of Sunni Muslims at 1.37 billion to 1.41 billion. The Brooklyn-based Association has branches across the country and in Patchogue, Moriches and Dix Hills, according to its website.

Association members faced years of opposition over expansion of a mosque in Dix Hills, with neighbors complaining about the parking and traffic problems they said it would bring.

Referring to the Dix Hills mosque, Philip C. Ingerman, Huntington Town assistant deputy supervisor, said the town expects a plan calling for a smaller mosque will be presented to the town planning board by late spring or early summer.

Minutes of last summer’s Babylon Planning Board hearing suggest at least one neighbor supported the study program.

“I work 10 or more hours and as an immigrant, I don’t have enough English to explain” religion and traditions to my children, North Babylon resident Hasan Ustan said, according to the board record. “It is a good place and I want my kids to learn what a good person should be.”

Long Island has 25 mosques and about 75,000 Muslims, according to the Westbury-based Islamic Center of Long Island.

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