NORTH SMITHFIELD – The Planning Board has approved a large-scale expansion of the mosque on Sayles Hill Road, an addition needed to accommodate a growing population of congregants.

Mosque Masjid Al-Islam will be adding a 10,000-square-foot addition according to plans approved this week, as well as a new parking lot behind the existing two-story building.

Planners voted unanimously on Thursday, Dec. 3 to find the project consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan.

“Failure to support the Mosque expansion could result in the preference to vacate and construct another facility elsewhere, which would not be consistent with land use policy 5,” the approval noted.

Speaking on behalf of the expansion at a meeting with planners last week,  architect for the mosque Javed Sultan noted that the new parking lot will add 60 additional spaces for a total capacity of 300 vehicles. The lot, he said, will only be used for two yearly celebrations that typically attract around 1,000 worshippers.

“The 300 capacity will only be used twice a year in the morning for a couple of hours,” Sultan said. “The night time shouldn’t even come into play.”

The mosque will continue to have primary access on Sayles Hill Road, and attendants will help visitors to park for the special events.

“It will be almost like when you go to a festival during the summer,” said Norbert Therien, a land surveyor working with the project. “Somebody’s going to be directing them.”

The expansion has been in the works since late 2019, and the applicant has  received feedback from the town’s Conservation Commission. Developers will be making efforts to minimize impact from the expansion, such as returning some of the existing paved area to a natural surface

“We have to adhere to what they call the dark skies method of lighting,” said Therien of the commission’s requests.

The project also required a special use permit, which the applicant previously obtained from the Zoning Board, as well as permits from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which they expect to finalize in the upcoming weeks.

Founded in 1995, Masjid Al-Islam is one of only eight mosques of its kind in the state, and already Rhode Island’s largest, according its website.

The unanimous approval was granted under conditions that the applicant continues to hire police details to manage traffic for events, follow Conservation Commission directives on elements such as the replanting of trees and dark sky lighting, obtain the appropriate permits from RIDEM.

Last week’s meeting also served as a public hearing for the project, and final planning approval is expected to be handled administratively.

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