A South Bay Islamic congregation that has worshipped in a converted barn for the past two decades has spent more than half that time planning and fundraising for a permanent place of worship. Tonight, that proposal to build a mosque, community center and cemetery in rural San Martin comes up for a key vote.
Santa Clara County staff has recommended that the planning commission approve the Cordoba Center proposed by the by the nonprofit South Valley Islamic Community.
The project has been in the works for 13 years and is now—despite vociferous opposition from a small, but organized contingent—has reached the final stages of approval.
The project has been fraught with controversy, with the South Valley Islamic Community having purchased the property and withdrawn two applications before the most recent version. The main concerns raised by critics have involved potential flooding, the proposed cemetery and inducing more traffic.
But some of the backlash has been xenophobic.
Members of the Islamic community at the meeting last week countered that approval of the project is a matter of religious freedom. Overall, staff recommended giving it the green light because the environmental impact report indicated that it would not have a significant effect if mitigation plans were put in place.
Sitting on nearly 16 acres, the project is also proposed to include a plaza, cemetery, maintenance building, caretaker’s dwelling, youth camp, playground and orchard. County staff told community members and a local neighborhood advisory committee that regularly scheduled events would not create congestion on San Martin streets. Staff said that when major events were held at the site, the South Valley Islamic Community would have to implement a valet or shuttle system to accommodate visitors’ cars.
“A traffic study was prepared by Fehr and Peers, dated April 2017, that evaluated potential traffic impacts from the project and the potential for the project to worsen traffic congestion affecting the surrounding area,” the report stated. “The project would only add vehicles representing less than 7 percent of the weekday peak hour volume on Monterey Road, and these added vehicles would be dispersed with some traveling to the north and some to the south.”
The cemetery, which would sit on 3.5 acres of the nearly 16-acre property, has worried residents who thought it would cause groundwater pollution. Clean water in San Martin has been an ongoing issue, with a vast perchlorate contamination in the early 2000s and numerous sewage system ruptures in recent years. To mitigate any possible effects, the groundwater and nitrate levels will be monitored, according to county staff.
Santa Clara County Planning Manager Rob Eastwood said in an earlier interview that planners had consulted with the regional water resource board when creating mitigation plans for the cemetery. There were no existing standards, so experts were hired “to go in and craft a very conservative standard.”
For the first five years, Eastwood said there will be a limit of 30 burial sites per year, with annual monitoring of groundwater quality.
The staff report also stated that flooding would not be an issue with the project. The Cordoba Center would neighbor Llagas Creek, as it would sit on the highest point in San Martin, it would not be at risk for flooding, according to the report.
To mitigate any possible flooding impacts, the county would require the South Valley Islamic Center to implement a variety of drainage systems that will be monitored.
“Proposed plans indicate that storm drainage will be adequately managed through the installation of drainage facilities onsite, including a proposed drainage retention pond with drainage inlets from the access driveway and parking lot, and grassy swales surrounding the proposed structures,” said the staff report. “The cemetery would be terraced along the contours of the hill slope and hydro-seeded with native grasses to prevent erosion. The cemetery has also been conditioned to require a drainage analysis, prior to the issuance of a grading permit, to ensure positive flow such that no ponding or saturation occurs in this area.”
Ultimately, the cemetery plans will also require approval by the Board of Supervisors.