There’s not a dome or prayer tower in sight – but a string of rugby league legends are this week celebrating winning their fight to build a new ‘mega mosque’ in Sydney’s south.
Sonny Bill Williams, Anthony Mundine and Hazem El Masri all threw their weight behind the campaign for the Hurstville mosque in a suburban Carlton backstreet.
The original plan was thrown out by the Georges River Council after a furious backlash from more than 2,000 locals, but it has now been approved by NSW Land and Environmental Court.
The building will be housed in an abandoned nursing home which will be gutted to create a series of male and female prayer and community rooms over two floors.
But the mosque is set to keep a modernised version of it current existing basic structure – without adding any traditional style prayer towers or decorative domes.
Sonny Bill Williams (pictured), Anthony Mundine and Hazem El Masri all threw their weight behind the campaign for the Hurstville mosque in a suburban Carlton backstreet
Nearby neighbours fear a dramatic increase in noise and traffic from the mosque, which even its backers admit will serve up to 20,000 local Muslims in the area.
Council planning chiefs estimated it would need at least 97 car park spaces to cope with the demand – based on just one car for every 10 visitors – but the approved plans only have room for 27 cars.
The imams behind the plan bought the former Botanic Gardens nursing home on Botany Street and a neighbouring property to demolish for additional parking and access.
Plans for an external rear combined prayer room on the 1,988sqm site were scrapped to create four more parking spaces, which proved enough to green light the project.
There are no traditional domes or prayer towers in the plans for the new Hurstville mosque (pictured an artist’s impression of the redeveloped building)
The building is a former nursing home which will be redeveloped as Hurstville Masjid mosque
Surry Hills-based Fuse Architects have worked pro bono on the design, which will see the repurposed nursing home transformed.
The ground floor will feature rooms for male ablutions and shoe storage with a large male prayer room, hidden from street view by a new soundproof perimeter fence.
The first floor has four separate male and female community rooms for youths and seniors and a female prayer room, as well as toilets, female ablutions and a kitchenette.
The building also has a small studio apartment for a permanent resident at the centre of the development, which features a large bright atrium at its heart.
As well as regular, frequent prayer meetings, it will also be used for weddings, funerals, religious education sessions and counselling services.
The local Islamic community is now fundraising to pay for the building works, with a large dinner and auction last week hoping to raise a substantial contribution.
Sonny Bill Williams was the guest of honour for a fundraising dinner last week and asked for donations, along with Anthony Mundine and Hazem El Masri (pictured) in a series of videos
Imams bought the current former Botanic Gardens nursing home on Botany Street (pictured) and a neighbouring property (left) to demolish for additional parking and access
Sonny Bill Williams was the guest of honour for the dinner and asked for donations, along with Mundine and El Masri, in a series of videos last month.
‘As a proud Muslim in this area, this is something that I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time,’ he admitted.
‘It’s been a roller coaster ride to get this Masjid up and running, maybe four or five years.
‘Either way you look at it, it’s been a beautiful process.’
Locals may disagree. They launched a bitter campaign to try to stop the development but were branded racists for opposing it.
They lined their street with placards protesting against the mosque, but the signs were caught on CCTV being ripped down by mystery men in the dead of night.
Williams posted a photograph on Instagram of him sitting among some of the protest signs with the caption: ‘Racism is well and truly alive in Botany St, Carlton Sydney.’
Residents in Carlton’s Botany Street in Sydney’s south lined the road with placards (pictured) opposing the conversion saying they were worried about noise and traffic
Kiwi rugby star Sonny Bill Williams (pictured) branded those who tried to block the new mosque as out at ‘racist fearmongers’
Williams, 37, added: ‘God willing we’ll be praying 365 DAYS, 5 TIMES A DAY at our new Masjid very soon. May the most high eradicate racism from our society.’
The former Canterbury Bulldogs and All Blacks hero lives in the area with his South African-born former model wife Alana, 29, and their three young children, Imaan, 6, Aisha, 4, and Zaid, 3.
The Kiwi converted to Islam in 2009 while playing in France, and his wife, mother and brother have also since converted too.
‘There are thousands of Muslim families in the area, and we don’t have a place we can go to worship,’ Williams said. ‘Unfortunately this is fear mongering.
‘The Muslim community has been here in the Carlton area since 1950s and has never had a mosque.’
Residents seen here are opposing a development application currently going through Georges River Council which says the mosque will hold five prayer meetings a day between 5.30am and 10pm for up to 120 people, seven days a week
CCTV footage (pictured) caught carloads of unknown men driving into the area to rip down the signs in the dead of night
Residents in the area insisted their opposition had nothing to do with race or religion, but was to avoid a deadly increase of traffic.
The road is already a notorious accident blackspot with at least one fatality, and locals say the mosque – which they claim could attract 2,000 people – will make it even worse.
‘I lost my son here, and I’ve been crying ever since,’ resident Rakina, whose child died after being hit by a car in the area, told Nine’s A Current Affair last year.
‘It’s just totally wrong. I don’t want any more mothers crying like me.’
Former Canterbury Bulldogs and All Blacks hero Sonny Bill Williams lives in the Carlton area with his South African-born former model wife Alana, 29, and their three young children, Imaan, 6, Aisha, 4, and Zaid, 3 (pictured)
The abandoned nursing home has lain empty for years before it was bought to be redeveloped
Another resident, Diane, added: ‘It doesn’t belong here. This is a residential area and nothing more.
‘[The campaign] is very much based on a technical argument [about traffic and zoning].
‘But the amount of hostility that we’ve seen, people are now refusing to come out because they’re scared.’
A dozen locals submitted objections to the NSW Land and Environment Court to oppose the project, listing 26 grounds for their objection
The Land and Environment Court approved the revised plans for the project after hearing there was sufficient on-street parking on Botany Road to cope with demand, while soundproofing measures would minimise the impact on neighbours.
Worshippers will also need to register for a parking space, with a strict limit on numbers at the mosque, electronically counted and recorded, with the council able to demand spot checks as required.
The earlier plan rejected by the council had fewer parking spaces and two separate car parks
Parking at the rear has now been re-arranged to create four more parking spaces by demolishing the external annex at its rear
WHY LOCALS OPPOSED MOSQUE
The proposal will result in loss of privacy for surrounding residential dwellings;
The acoustic impacts of the proposal will disturb neighbours;
The proposal will increase activity in the residential neighbourhood;
The proposal is an overdevelopment of the site;
The development is inconsistent with a low density residential character and this is reflected in the prohibition of Places of Public Worship in the R2 zone under the new Local Environmental Plan;
The site is unsuitable for the development;
The development does not provide the required number of car parking spaces onsite;
Cars associated with the use of the development will be parked on surrounding streets;
There will be vehicles leaving the site after 10pm;
There will be queues of cars during special events and Ramadan, blocking access to Ethel Lane;
The visitor numbers are an underestimation of the capacity of the development;
The Plan of Management cannot be enforced;
Clarification is needed regarding the proposed crowd control measures associated with the development;
The residents should not be required to report breaches of the conditions of consent to the Council;
The amended proposal does not ameliorate the concerns of the objectors;
The development is likely to be intensified in the future;
The Council had ignored the wishes of the local residents;
The value of properties proximate to the development will decrease;
The increased vehicular traffic around the development will pose a safety risk to school children;
The new Local Environmental Plan should be considered as the development is prohibited under the new plan;
The trial period will occur after the development has been constructed;
The fence along Xenia Avenue must be an acoustic fence;
The planned prayer session clash with sports afternoons and school dismissal;
The current configuration of the driveway only allows for a single car to enter or exit;
There is no room for a small rigid vehicle to turn around; and
Car parking spaces should be 2.6m wide instead of 2.5m wide.