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Mosque to open in former New Landing building on Waltham's Moody Street

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  August 2, 2012 12:58 PM

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Moody Street's eclectic collection of restaurants, bars, and novelty shops is about to get a bit more vibrant.

The Waltham Islamic Society has bought the property at 313 Moody St. in Waltham, which formerly housed the New Landing Restaurant, and plans to open a mosque there after passing certain zoning requirements, according to organization officials.

Leaders of the organization closed the sale on the building in mid-July, buying the space for about $515,000 with money raised locally over the past 10 years.

Abdul Kasozi, the society's president, said the religious organization, which serves about 60 to 70 local families, hopes to complete renovations and officially open in the next three to four months.

"We have to go through the zoning requirements, and then we’ll go from there," Kasozi said. "We’ll do whatever is required."

The mosque will be added to a Moody Street which hosts upscale restaurants, bars, sandwich shops, food markets, gift shops and furniture stores. A consumer on the street can purchase everything from locally brewed beer and tapas to handmade gifts and mangoes.

Kasozi said local Muslims have been praying at the organization's current 16 Park Place location, which the society has rented for the past 10 years, but Kasozi said religious leaders have been fundraising dollar by dollar since then to buy a new space to permanently own.

"We have been paying rent all that time, but now we own something," Kasozi said. "What we'll have is now better."

Kasozi said congregation members are also thrilled about the new mosque opening.

"Everyone is excited, because we are improving," Kasozi said. "There is general excitement because it's a combined effort. The process of looking and contributing - we don’t do it for them, we all do it together."

Kasozi said the organization plans to spend around $150,000 on renovations, but does not plan to change the building's foundation, interior, or exterior very much - just enough to meet state building codes for assembly use.

"When it's ready and meets requirements, we will be ready to go in," he said.

Patrick Powell, Waltham's building commissioner, said although his office has not yet received an application from the Waltham Islamic Society, recognized nonprofit religious institutions are allowed by law in any zone - commercial or residential.

However, Powell added that such organizations still must adhere to certain standards, like providing parking for congregation members.

"They have to supply a certain number of parking spaces based on the number of seats or parishioners," Powell said. "If they cannot supply what's required by zoning law, then they can seek relief from the Zoning Board of Appeals."

Powell also added that two other religious centers have received such relief in appeals to the board in recent years.

"Most only operate services on the weekend or at specific times," Powell said. "Sometimes there are public parking areas in vicinity, and they can bus people in from there."

Kasozi said local Muslim leaders have been searching for a permanent prayer space for the past four to five years in Waltham.

He said while mosques stand nearby in Brighton, Wayland, Cambridge and Belmont, there still was yet to be one built in Watch City.

"There are mosques all over - everywhere except here and some neighboring places," Kasozi said. "But for this location, we didn’t have one."

Joe Vizard, a Waltham city councilor-at-large, said there have been a number of new religious institutions opening in Waltham over the past few years.

"There are other religious institutions on Moody Street," he said, also adding that the main thoroughfare has a diverse appeal with the number of restaurants, bars and shops located there.

Syed Yousuf Raheem, who sits on the Waltham Islamic Society's board, also owns the year-old Waltham India Market at 315 Moody St. next door to where the new mosque will open.

Raheem said the Moody Street location's layout, with an expansive open floor, proves better for congregating and praying than the small rooms at the current Park Place house.

Additionally, Raheem said he expects his grocery store business to boom once the mosque opens.

"It's an extra feature on Moody Street," he said. "It will bring more crowds and different crowds."

Most Waltham residents supported the mosque opening, some citing how they liked shopping at the Indian grocery store next door.

However, long-time Waltham resident Frank Orovitz, 73, said he was concerned about traffic and parking.

"They should have a plan that will not interfere with the traffic," Orovitz said. "I would hate to see everything jammed up on a Friday night."

Waltham native Amanda Nutlie, 23, said she worried that the addition of the Islamic prayer site is changing the vibe of the Moody Street she grew up with.

"It's bringing a lot more Islamic people onto Moody Street, and it's changing the way Moody Street was," Nutlie said. "It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I would like to see more American things on Moody Street, and to see it back the way it used to be."

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