After years of work and setbacks, the Upper Westchester Muslim Society has received a key vote it has long sought.
At its Wednesday meeting, New Castle's Zoning Board of Appeals declared the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the group's proposed West End mosque to be complete, paving the way for the next phase of the review, which is a public comment period.
The completeness vote came in response to UWMS submitting its third iteration of the detailed statement in several years. The building was proposed in 2006 and the first DEIS iteration was rejected in December 2009. The second iteration was not submitted until March 2011, and by the board last July due to outstanding comments it wanted to see addressed.
The current version was received by the town on April 25. Subsequent meetings between officials for UWMS and the town were held, which helped resolve some outstanding issues, Les Steinman, an attorney for the town, was recorded in a video of the meeting as saying.
The approval, according to the town's zoning office, is contigent upon answering several remaining questions that the board has, which appear to be minor in nature. Those changes include clarifying the fact that some text is opinion from the applicant and better deliniations of some data, Joanne Meder, a planning consultant to the town, explained in the video of the meeting.
Meredith Black, an attorney for UWMS, said a response was given Friday. The approved resolution calls for production of the complete DEIS by June 7, she explained, with a public hearing to be held at the board's June 27 meeting.
The DEIS is part of a required environmental review needed before the zoning board can vote on whether to grant a special permit for the mosque. The zoning board is acting as the lead agency for the environmental review, and is tasked with primary oversight of the project as a result.
The site for the proposed 24,690-square-foot mosque is 8.33 acres and located at 130 Pines Bridge Rd., in New Castle's West End.
Anees Shaikh, a spokesman for UWMS, was satisfied with the news.
"Obviously, we are very pleased to finally reach this major milestone -- our community has been very patiently waiting for this," he explained. "The sheer volume of content in the DEIS is a testament to the amount of effort, time, and money the UWMS community has spent to make sure all of the issues are investigated and addressed. We're looking forward to completing the remaining steps as quickly as possible."
The public hearing could be extended beyond the next meeting, Steinman was recorded as saying, citing the onset of summer. Once the official public comment period for the DEIS is over, the applicant has to respond with a final environmental impact statement (FEIS), according to state law. The FEIS can go through its own completeness revisions process. Once it is deemed complete, the lead agency will work on a findings statement to conclude the review. A vote on the special permit would take place after the review is done.