At least one type of building proposal is likely to stir more controversy than high-speed rail these days.
Wilson, a town in Sheboygan County, earlier this year approved a conditional-use permit allowing a Muslim group to convert a health-food store into a mosque. But the approval came after weeks of protest — and anti-Muslim rhetoric — from local residents.
Now, another Wisconsin city is facing a similar situation, as the Oshkosh Common Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to allow the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to convert an 8,000-square-foot funeral home on the city’s west side into a house of worship. The Muslim group has agreed to buy the building for about $300,000.
“We met with the neighborhood as much as we could to show them we understand their concerns,” said Khurram Ahmad, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. “We want to do as much as we can to minimize our impact on them.”
Still, several residents oppose the mosque and have hired an attorney, Brian Hamill, of Oshkosh-based Dempsey, Williamson, Kelly and Hertel LLP, to represent them. Hamill did not return a call seeking comment.
Although the discussion in Oshkosh has focused less on religion and more on traffic and noise control, Alderman Tony Palmeri said he thinks nervousness toward Islam has driven at least some of the opposition.
“There seems to be a subtext of discomfort with the idea of a mosque, but that’s not what’s being said,” Palmeri said. “What’s being said publicly is it’s bringing too much noise, too much traffic and it might run into late hours.”
Those worries don’t quite add up, though, Palmeri said. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community comprises 13 families, while Oshkosh West High School — and its nearly 2,000 students — sits across the street from the would-be mosque.
“There doesn’t seem to be any rational grounds to oppose this,” Palmeri said. “The Muslim organization in question has been going out of its way to be accommodating.”
Hamill argued before the Oshkosh Plan Commission that a mosque would violate city zoning codes. The commission disagreed, unanimously approving the mosque.
“Usually, you would expect a lawyer to have stronger legal ground,” Palmeri said. “You cannot prevent the religious use of a building on the basis of minimal noise. You have to have something stronger than that.”
Barring further evidence, Oshkosh is likely to OK the mosque, Alderman Steve Herman said.
“I believe the council will approve it,” he said. “It’s really not any different than any other church or organization wanting to put up a facility.”