POCATELLO, Idaho - Pocatello Planning and Development has approved the request for the Islamic Society to remodel an old restaurant, but renovations could be delayed if someone submits an appeal.
The permit approved allows the Islamic Society to remove the kitchen, update bathrooms and redo the parking lot of the old El Jacalito restaurant.
If an appeal goes through, it will be considered before the City Council, making it another public hearing. However, the appeal process isn't a guarantee, nor can it be submitted based on religious differences.
Daniel Hummel, Islamic Society general secretary, said he was overjoyed to received numerous emails, texts and phone calls telling him the permit was approved.
"It was great news," Hummel said. "We were just ecstatic."
He said he and many others were worried it might not be approved after the public hearing held Thursday, Feb. 13. At that hearing, many spoke in support of the mosque, but others claimed they would at least fear for their safety, while at most, move away.
"There was concern because of some of the complaints that were being brought forward about our community," Hummel said, "most of it based in religious issues that had no place at that meeting."
But even with this green light from the Pocatello Planning and Development department, someone could appeal the decision.
"I've already talked with our attorney," said Terri Neu, assistant planner, "and if the appeal is based strictly on religion, we can't accept it. Because we don't discriminate against religions."
Neu said there are certain requirements to submit an appeal. For example, somebody in Idaho Falls could likely not appeal the decision. It would have to be somebody who lives in the area, and they would have to prove an impact, like a decrease in property values.
Neu also said there are fees that go with the appeal, including the out-of-pocket cost to print the legal notice in the Idaho State Journal, as well as providing notices to any neighbors that would be affected.
"It could mean upwards of $100," Neu said, adding this wasn't even considered an issue the two decades the Islamic Society has been in Pocatello. "I just think people need to take the fear out of it and just accept these people. They've been here for over two decades, flying under the radar. Nobody really knew they were here until this."
Hummel said despite the complaints, the community has been overwhelmingly supportive.
"So we're just going to take that support and springboard off of it," he said. "We're going to make this mosque exactly what we said it was going be: yes, a place of prayer. But it's going to be a contribution to this community as well."