MAYFAIR — Mayfair residents turned out Thursday night to voice their opposition to a mosque and community center proposed by the neighborhood's Yemeni population, saying the buildings could create traffic problems along an already clogged section of Elston Avenue.
The mosque and community center would be located at 4854 N. Elston Ave. on a parcel bordered by alleys and bungalows, with the only point of entrance and exit off Elston. The buildings currently are vacant and were purchased out of receivership.
"It's too tight," said Jeffrey Wentz. "There are a lot of other places around the neighborhood where we would welcome a mosque and community center. Let's look at someplace else that might fit better."
A presentation by American Muslim preacher Yusuf Estes, in which he outlined many of the guiding principles of Islam, struck some neighbors as off-topic and presumptuous.
"I don't think the issue has anything to do with ethnicity or religion. We have a little United Nations in North Mayfair, Mayfair and Albany Park, and we like that," said Candy Gabriel.
"This is purely a zoning issue," she said. "That whole implication that there's some unwelcomeness needs to come out of the discussion off the top."
"I don't want it to become a religious thing — I'm here to talk about the building," said Wentz, noting that an architectural drawing of the property, depicting it as surrounded by green space, "bears no resemblance to the land around it."
"That's a ridiculous rendering because my house is a forest preserve," said Christopher Lambesis, whose home would abut the community center.
Muslims' practice of five daily prayers — dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall — had others raising the issue of the potential for constant noise and traffic in the largely residential area.
Naser Nasser, who is organizing the project, attempted to quell concerns.
"We're neighbors — some of us have lived in the Mayfair community for 15 to 20 years," said Nasser, who was born and raised in Albany Park. "We don't want to cause a commotion — we live here."
The location of the mosque, he said, was chosen specifically because many of the congregation's members live across the street, and could be expected to walk to worship.
"There is no announcement or call to prayer," Nasser added.
Friday's midday prayer is the main sabbath for Muslims and typically the only time the entire congregation gathers, explained the project's architect and engineer, Mohamed Ali.
"At morning prayer, there is hardly five or 10 people," said Ali.
Furthermore, the community center would be open to all, said Nasser.
Though nothing is firm at this point, he said he envisions offering English as a Second Language classes, after-school tutoring, a senior center for social gatherings and perhaps even a farmers market in the parking lot.
"We plan to be good neighbors," he said. "We want to bridge the cultural gap."
Residents called on Nasser and Ali to fine tune their rendering and plans for handling traffic flow and parking, and to present detailed revisions at the November meeting of the Mayfair Civic Association.
"I think the issues are resolvable," said Lynn Burmeister, president of the North Mayfair Improvement Association, which hosted Thursday's meeting. "There just needs to be more dialogue."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: