ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - A new community center run by the Islamic nonprofit Aisha Cultural Centers Inc. became the center of a controversial county zoning hearing Tuesday.
A building on the east side of the county will soon change from a landscaping warehouse to a place for social services, youth programs and college prep tutoring.
"It's almost shocking how low intensity of a use this is. We're talking about 'Mommy and Me' programs with maybe 10 people coming,” said attorney Tara Tedrow.
But the county received about 85 letters in opposition to the center.
Most had concerns about additional traffic and noise.
"I'm just trying to avoid having this kind of institution 90 feet from my master bedroom,” said resident Fernando Duval.
But in some of the letters, residents wrote comments such as, "Keep terrorism out" and "I don't want the troubles Europe has."
"I'm upset that I have to see people who are in this room who are Islamophobics, who are always rallying against Muslims," said a speaker at the meeting.
Michael Johnson, who lives 23 miles from the property, in a different county, brought a stack of petitions to commissioners.
"I've gotten almost everybody in the neighborhood to sign the petition,” he said.
Channel 9’s Lauren Seabrook on Tuesday spoke to four people who live less than 100 yards from the building. Two didn't know anything about it and the other two said the petition seemed deceptive.
"I was just kind of stronghanded into signing a petition I didn't really know anything about. Pretty much the minute I asked for more information, they kind of walked away," said resident Drew Lorenz.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs pointed out a concern she said she had never seen at a zoning hearing before: Many of the people complaining do not live near the building and some had addresses outside the county.
She said she couldn’t understand why anyone living that far away would care about added traffic.
In the end, commissioners voted to allow the nonprofit to move forward with the center.
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