New Islamic centre approved despite parking concerns

Islam Ottawa

Islam Ottawa

An illustration of the proposed Islam Care Centre at 312 Lisgar St.

Despite public concerns over a rise in parking congestion, city council approved re-zoning amendments last week to allow for the expansion of the Islam Care Centre.

The centre, located at 312 Lisgar St., is commonly referred to as the Da’wah Centre. The building houses a prayer and learning space that has served the Muslim community in Ottawa’s downtown core for over a decade.

The centre has received approval to demolish the 100-year-old semi-detached building to make way for a four-storey building that would expand the centre’s existing functionality.

However, these proposed renovations would not meet the zoning bylaw provisions for the lot.

As a result of the zoning amendments, the Islam Care Centre has been exempted from several requirements.

Among these exemptions is a waiver on the parking space normally required at a place of worship or community health and resource centre.

The lot at 312 Lisgar is too small to accommodate any parking.  The city decided that surrounding street parking could handle any traffic to the Islam Care Centre.

However, public consultations on the re-zoning process revealed significant concerns about an increase in street parking in the area.

Raed Arab is the project manager for the new building and is on the board of directors for the centre. He believes there will be no additional strain on street parking.

“The size of our prayer spaces is not what is going to change,” says Arab. “Most of our employees will be bussing in, so the extra space only requires about seven extra spots.”

Arab says the centre is paying the city a fee in lieu of providing adequate parking, a common practice for small, narrow lots with little space.

In the proposed redevelopment, the first floor will serve as a prayer space. The second floor will be an information centre and library, while the new third and fourth floors will serve as a family services centre for the Muslim community.

Arab expects the final details of the renovation to be completed within sixth months to a year.

Sulaiman Khan, a founding member of the Islam Care Centre, says the focus has been on community fundraising to raise the estimated $4 million cost needed to change the centre’s dilapidated structure.

“We are working on projects that will get the Muslim community more involved, but we need to provide not just a place to pray but a place also for social and recreational activities,” says Khan.

According to Statistics Canada, the Muslim community is Canada’s fastest growing religious population.

The 2006 to 2031 projection of Canadian diversity report states “it is the Muslim population that could show the greatest increase between 2006 and 2031, with its numbers tripling during this period.”

In Ottawa, the Muslim community is very diverse, ranging in origin from East Africa to the Middle East to Southern Asia.

Khan says there is a serious need for a private worship space and community centre in Ottawa that addresses social issues specific to Muslim youth.

Adam Gilani, president of the University of Ottawa’s Muslim Student Association, says Muslim youth face particular risk factors because their unique health and family needs often go underserved.

 “What we need is something that is operated within the Muslim community with experts and health providers . . . that know the issues better,” says Gilani.