An Islamic center proposed in Signal Hill may finally become a reality next year.
The Signal Hill City Council granted Long Beach Islamic Center (LBIC) a conditional-use permit (CUP) in a unanimous 5-0 vote at its Oct. 15 meeting, allowing the organization to revive construction of a 2,025-square-foot mosque on the northwest corner of California Avenue and 27th Street.
But this isn’t the first time the City has issued building permits for the Islamic center.
The project has been delayed several years mainly because the Muslim organization couldn’t come up with enough funding to complete the one-story structure.
The Council originally approved the project in 2007 along with conditions regulating operations at the site. Nearly a year later, the applicant was granted permit extensions, but in 2009, LBIC’s site plan and design review expired, with the applicant citing a lack of financing to begin construction.
Later that year, the Signal Hill Planning Commission reapproved a second site plan and design review, and construction began in 2010. However, the project stalled again due to insufficient funds, and building permits ultimately expired in May 2013.
With the intention of completing the project, LBIC submitted new applications for building permits this year, however the organization was required to retest three oil wells on the site to document they were not leaking methane gas.
At its Oct. 8 meeting, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the proposed site plan and design review in a 5-0 vote and recommended the Council approve the new CUP. There was no spoken opposition during public comment.
This time, however, LBIC is required to complete the project within 540 days under a new city ordinance passed this year that sets time limits for construction projects, said Scott Charney, Signal Hill director of community development.
He said the City’s ordinance doesn’t have specific provisions for partially constructed projects, but LBIC has demonstrated to staff and the Planning Commission a “viable strategy to move forward” by hiring both a project manager and an event planner, responsible for raising funds for the project’s completion. Charney said officials for LBIC indicated they have already raised about 60 percent of the funds needed and they plan to finish construction of the mosque within a year.
Letters submitted to the City by LBIC indicate that about $200,000 is needed to complete the project. The letters also state that LBIC’s Board of Directors previously relied primarily on volunteers to manage the project and organize fundraisers, leading to “irregular donation periods and frequent changes in project managers.” However, a professional event planner is expected to schedule fundraisers on a regular basis. The next fundraisers are scheduled for Dec. 7 and in March and June of next year.
Tarek Mohamed, chairman of the Islamic center’s board and the group’s worship leader, or imam, expressed appreciation to the Council for reconsidering the building permits. He also confirmed that the organization plans to finish construction before the City’s required deadline.
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to again apply and continue our project,” Mohamed said. “We are a nonprofit organization… We work according to the amount of money, but right now we have over 60 percent. We have a financial plan to get the money very, very soon… Our community is very excited to have the approval.”
The mosque, proposed on a 13,000-square-foot parcel of land at 995 27th St. that has 18 off-street parking spaces, is planned to include an office, conference room, assembly room, washrooms and restrooms, according to staff reports. The building’s southern entry is expected to include an arcade with three arches supported by four columns finished in stucco. Currently, an exterior frame of the building has been erected, and a dome sits on the ground.
According to a Signal Tribune article published in 2007, a neighboring property owner had once expressed concerns about “audible calls to prayer, or Adhan,” referring to an Islamic tradition in which there are prayers five times a day. Mohamed assured the Council, however, that all Adhans would be indoors. Morning prayer sessions would be from 6am to 6:30am and an evening prayer session would be from 7pm to 7:30pm. The property is expected to be open from noon to 4pm for general office hours and public visitations on weekdays and open on Saturdays for special lectures.
Long Beach Islamic Center, which was established in 2004 and currently operates out of a temporary mosque at 1525 Long Beach Blvd., is responsible for $12,798 in development impact fees. Since the building in Signal Hill is a religious facility, it is exempt from general property taxes.
Other Council highlights:
Presentations and introductions Mayor Michael Noll and Signal Hill Public Works Deputy Director Rick Olson introduced Jonathan Arakaki, a new maintenance worker for the public works department, who is a native of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Noll also presented a proclamation to Dr. George M. Jayatilaka to recognize his work with the Accountable Health Care Independent Physician Association.
Police-officer position The Council unanimously authorized the city manager to accept $125,000 in federal grant funding through the 2013 Community Oriented Policing (COPS) Hiring Program to pay for one police-officer position. The grant requires the City match $187,735 in asset-forfeiture funds, according to a staff report. Years two and three of the grant will be appropriated during the normal budget process. There is no financial impact to the General Fund until four years from the approval.
The next Signal Hill Council meeting will be in the Council Chamber on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 7pm.