Plans call for Yemeni mosque, center at North Mayfair site


A planned mosque and Yemeni community center would include an industrial property that is located behind a row of bungalows in the 4800 block of North Kentucky Avenue.

Members of the area’s Yemeni community have had preliminary talks with the North Mayfair Improvement Association about the possibility of opening a mosque in a triangular-shaped industrial building that is bordered on all three sides by an alley, with no direct access to a street. The community center would be across one of the alleys in a portion of a commercial building at 4860 N. Elston Ave. that currently houses a car rental agency.

The project is contingent on the Zoning Board of Appeals issuing a special use allowing religious assembly on a commercially zoned property. A spokesman for Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th) said that the alderman has not been given formal plans for the project.

It is estimated that there are about 150 Yemeni families living in the area, and many of the families have become active in the association in recent months, volunteering for a community mural project on Cicero Avenue and for other events, association vice president Matthew Robertson said. It is believed that many of the people using the mosque and the community center would live within walking distance of the site, Robertson said.

The mosque would have two entrances, and visitors would be able to park at the community center, which would have several classrooms, Robertson said.

The site of the proposed mosque had a court-appointed receiver who was overseeing the property until its recent sale. The building, which reportedly was in need of environmental remediation at the time of the sale, is bordered by alleys that run behind buildings in the 4500 block of West Lawrence Avenue, the 4800 block of North Elston Avenue and the 4800 block of Kentucky.

The fact that the mosque would not front a street makes it "a very challenging location," raising concerns among some residents about increased foot and vehicle traffic in the alleys, Robertson said. He said that the association has submitted a list of questions about the proposal to project officials.

In a proposal not related to the community center project, a special use is being sought that would allow a hookah bar to open in a former carpet store at 4614 W. Lawrence Ave. The city Department of Buildings has issued a stop work order on the project because construction inside the building was being conducted without a permit.

The owner of the proposed hookah bar told residents at the Sept. 11 meeting of the Mayfair Civic Association that there are no plans to seek liquor, food or entertainment licenses for the establishment and that customers would be prohibited from bringing liquor, association Zoning and Development Committee chairman Chris Lambesis said. The owner said that the busiest times for the establishment would be from the early evening to midnight, Lambesis said.

Residents expressed concern that the establishment would increase parking congestion in the area and generate additional traffic on side streets and alleys, Lambesis said. Concerns also were expressed that the operating hours could lead to late-night noise, he said.

The association is planning to write a letter to Laurino expressing residents’ concerns about the hookah bar. There are two other hookah bars, where patrons smoke tobacco with water pipes, within about 4 blocks of the site, Lambesis said.