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NYC commission clears the way for construction of mosque near site of Sept. 11 attacks

New York Times / August 4, 2010

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NEW YORK — After a protracted battle that set off a national debate over freedom of religion, a Muslim center and mosque to be built two blocks from ground zero surmounted a final hurdle yesterday.

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9-0 against granting historic protection to the building at 45-47 Park Place in Lower Manhattan, where the $100 million center would be built.

That decision clears the way for a tower of as many as 15 stories that will house a mosque, a 500-seat auditorium, and a pool. Its leaders say it will be modeled on the YMCA and Jewish Community Center in Manhattan.

The vote yesterday was free of much of the vitriol that had been part of previous hearings. One by one, members of the commission debated the aesthetic significance of the building, designed in the Italian Renaissance Palazzo style by an unknown architect.

Christopher Moore, a member of the commission, said the vote was not a matter of religion, though he argued that the building could not be divorced from the memory of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“It is not directly on ground zero, but it is a part of ground zero,’’ Moore said.

After the commission voted, several members of the audience shouted “Shame on you!’’ and “Disgrace!’’ One woman carried a sign reading, “Don’t Glorify Murders of 3,000; No 9/11 Victory Mosque.’’

The issue had divided family members of those killed on Sept. 11. Some argued it was insensitive to the memory of those who died in the attacks. Others saw it as a symbol of tolerance to counter the religious extremism that prevailed on that day.

Yesterday, Rick A. Lazio, a Republican candidate for governor, appeared at the vote to oppose the project. Lazio called on his Democratic rival, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, to investigate the finances of the group spearheading the project, the Cordoba Initiative.

“Let’s have transparency,’’ Lazio said. “If they’re foreign governments, we ought to know about it. If they’re radical organizations, we ought to know about it.’’

Sharif El-Gamal, chief executive of SoHo Properties, the developer of the project, praised the commission’s decision. He said the center represented “an American dream which so many others share.’’

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