Mosque (Jamat Khana) to be built in Esquimalt – Canada

Mosque to be built in Esquimalt

Kim Westad
Times Colonist

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Esquimalt is getting a mosque, the first permanent facility the Ismaili Muslim community has had in Greater Victoria.

“It’s going to be really really positive,” Mayor Chris Clement said. Esquimalt council voted 6-1 in favour of a zoning amendment that will allow the vacant Bank of Montreal building at the corner of Esquimalt Road and Grenville Avenue to be used as a jamatkhana – a mosque, as well as an educational and cultural centre.

“We’re humbled and pleased by the council decision,” said Mehmoona Moosa-Mitha, one of the 150 local members of the Ismaili Muslim faith.

Ismaili Muslims belong to the Shia branch of Islam, which has about 20 per cent of Muslims worldwide. The other 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni. Local Ismailis have been leasing a building for several years.

The Esquimalt Road site will be the first they have owned. There are 17 other jamatkhanas in B.C.

A public hearing about the amendment saw a standing room only crowd pack Esquimalt council chamber Monday night.

Clement took a firm stance at the meeting from the outset, saying that council wouldn’t tolerate comments focusing on religion or ethnic origin. That was prompted by a letter written to council by two residents who said even contemplating the idea of a mosque was “insulting,” and suggested that mosques be banned in Canada. Municipal staff also received a couple of “nasty” phone calls denouncing Muslims, Clement said.

“I think the comments come more out of ignorance,” Clement said. “There is that little bit of paranoia from people, because of some of the societal reaction to the word Muslim these days.”

Public opinion was split at the meeting, but not because of the building being used by Muslims. Several residents spoke out against the building, which is in the middle of Esquimalt’s commercial core, being used as a place of worship, regardless of the faith. Some said the commercial core should remain commercial, as that encourages other businesses.

But the building has been largely empty for the last five years, used periodically as a call centre, and during the federal election. And there haven’t been proposals from other businesses wanting to use it.

Numerous people said parking will become even more difficult in the 1200-block of Esquimalt Road, and also had concerns over tax exemptions generally given to religious organizations.

“It’s hard enough to get into bloody Tim Hortons as it is now,” said Wood Street resident Bruce Brown, to laughter from the crowd.

But several others, as well as council, liked the idea of mixed use in the commercial core. They also liked that the building will be bought by a group with a long history of community involvement, as well as plans for an esthetically pleasing renovation to the present building. Tentative plans call for wall mosaics, as well as landscaping including a fountain.

All councillors, except for Barbara Desjardins, voted in favour of the zoning amendment. While Desjardins said she’s in favour of the project, she couldn’t support amending the bylaw that applies to all the commercial core to include assembly use. Assembly use includes gathering of people for religious, charitable, philanthropic, social, entertainment, cultural, private educational and private recreational purposes.

The jamatkhana could be operating by spring.

© Times Colonist 2006

Copyright © 2006 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.

Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

One thought

  1. Another article on the same news :

    Islamic centre approved

    Vern Faulkner/Esquimalt News

    By Vern Faulkner

    Esquimalt News

    Oct 20 2006

    Centre takes over vacant Bank of Montreal building

    Despite lingering questions over parking, Esquimalt’s politicians paved the way for the creation of an Islamic cultural centre in the heart of downtown.

    On Oct. 16, council amended the list of acceptable commercial-zone uses to allow creation of an Ismaili Jamatkhana – a gathering place for a sect of Muslims well-known for their charity work. The Jamatkhana will fill the long-vacant Bank of Montreal building at 1250 Esquimalt Rd.

    But the decision did not come without resistance, much from the surrounding business community.

    Marty Clough, owner of Marty’s Mountain Cycle immediately across Grenville Avenue from the site, grilled council on the issue of parking – a common concern for those who spoke at the Oct. 16 public hearing.

    “I’m very bothered by parking in the area,” he said, suggesting that the expected volume of visitors far outnumbered available parking spots.

    Tim Taylor represented the landlord of 1258 Esquimalt Rd. – the building that includes Tim Hortons and several residential suites above the street. He echoed Clough’s concerns about parking.

    “We think that it’s wonderful that we’re a multicultural society and that Esquimalt could use a place like this- we’re just concerned that it’s the wrong place to have it.”

    Many speakers likewise questioned whether a building in the heart of the community was a suitable location for a religious and cultural centre.

    Rockcrest Place resident Al Kidd questioned whether the location was consistent with the OCP, and whether the town should ignore the surrender of taxes concurrent with religious use.

    “Is the fact that the immediate area is drastically short of parking- not an important consideration? He asked.

    Kidd urged for another business, such as “a bank, credit union or insurance office” to take over the space.

    “We in Esquimalt have so much to offer, but seem so willing to give it away,” he said.

    He asked councillors to close the door to the Jamatkhana “and any other faith that puts a school or place of worship in the downtown core” that will remove property from the tax base.

    Bruce Brown wondered if it was an appropriate place for “any kind of religious group at all.”

    “Is this the best use of the space? Does it create any kind of jobs for any of the average, normal people that are here in Esquimalt?” he asked.

    While many speakers skirted the issue of religion, some did not.

    A naval officer in full uniform proudly declared that he is a devoted Canadian – and a practicing Muslim that will make regular use of the facility.

    Michael Hadly noted said that the creation of a Jamatkhana should be endorsed.

    “We should see this as a cause for great celebration,” he said. “Any community, and I suspect Esquimalt, needs another layer of life to enrich it.”

    “I cannot think of finer neighbours,” he added.

    Prominent council critic Rod Lavergne pointed out that if people in Esquimalt were concerned over churches on main roads, they should learn their history before complaining.

    “We used to have a church on Esquimalt Road – the Salvation Army,” he said.

    He also dismissed parking concerns as largely irrelevant.

    Mike Dillistone, the town’s director of development services, noted that the estimated peak use times of the building come early in the morning – 6:30 a.m. – and the same time in the evening.

    “The peak periods that they are projecting, are off-peak periods for typical businesses: the morning and evening,” said Dillistone.

    Countering suggestions that the building should be reserved for more mainstream business purposes, Coun. Lynda Hundleby noted that the structure had been vacant since the departure of the Bank of Montreal many years ago. For whatever reason, she said, business had not felt the location suitable. Ergo, she argued, the Ishmaili group will add something to a building that would otherwise remain vacant.

    Coun. Jane Sterk heartily supported the move.

    “From my perspective, it adds a quality to this community that will be a benefit,” she said. “Mixed use is a good thing in a community, an dads variety to activities that come in to the town centre.

    “I think that the plan for the building itself enhances the building and that corner of Esquimalt.”

    Mayor Christopher Clement concurred.

    “I think this proposal for the community is one we should embrace. It is a golden opportunity,” he said.

    Coun. Basil Boulton suggested that the Jamatkhana would enrich Esquimalt.

    “In all of the great cities of the world, that I know, bringing religious and cultural buildings into them is one of things that makes them great,” he said. “The design of this building is, I think, going to improve Esquimalt.”

    Coun. Barb Desjardins was the only opposing voice, citing the project as incompatible with the other uses of the town core.

    “I hear what the businesses are saying- all you need to do is see how business are being grouped to understand what they are saying: you need to create busyness in the street, so that businesses can support business,” she said. “As a self-contained town, we have to provide that area for commercial (activity) to survive.”

    She also opposed the blanket change to the zoning definitions, stating she would have preferred the Ismaili application to come forward as a rezoning request.


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