The controversial proposal to build an Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero passed a major test Tuesday when the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to, in effect, give the project a green light.

The commission decided, by a vote of 9-0, that the former Burlington Coat Factory building at Park Place and Broadway, which project organizers want to demolish, does not qualify for landmark status.

The decision clears a large hurdle for the $100-million project, the location of which has been criticized by some, including relatives of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The building, about two blocks north of Ground Zero, had to demonstrate architectural, historic and cultural significance to qualify for landmark status. Constructed in the late 1850s in the Italian Renaissance palazzo style, it was hit on the roof by parts of landing gear from one of the jets that flew into the Twin Towers.

Debate over the mosque has turned into a national issue, with everyone from Sarah Palin (against) to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (for) weighing in. On Friday, the Anti-Defamation League, the nation's leading Jewish civil rights group, came out against the proposal, shocking many in the civil rights and religious tolerance community.

Daisy Khan, a leader of the Manhattan-based Cordoba Initiative, the nonprofit Muslim outreach organization behind the project, said it aims to dispel stereotypes about Islam, demonstrate America's commitment to religious freedom, and build bridges between the public and mainstream Muslims who reject terrorism. "I think we have to take the tragedy of 911 and turn it into a place of healing," said Khan, a 1975 graduate of Jericho High School.

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Rosemary Cain, a Massapequa resident whose firefighter son George Cain, 35, was killed in the 2001 attacks, said she is not against mosques, but the Ground Zero location is highly objectionable and would reopen wounds.

"I don't think having a mosque so close to what most families consider to be sacred ground" is appropriate, Cain said. "I think it would be very nice if they would be a bit sensitive to the feelings of the families and consider another location."

The proposed 13-story center, modeled on venues such as the 92nd Street Y, would, in addition to a mosque, include a community center open to anyone, with a 500-seat performing arts center, a swimming pool, a fitness center, a restaurant and child-care facilities.