Lessard residents petitioning against a Muslim community centre and school proposed for a west Edmonton strip mall say they're worried about parking and traffic problems — not religion.
"The issue was never, ever, about faith or about certain beliefs. Not at all. The issue is purely civic and neighbourly," said Safwat Girgis, the author of the petition.
The community centre and school is proposed to go into the Lessard Mall. The small shopping centre is rundown and mostly vacant, with only three small businesses in the two-storey structure.
The Muslim Association of Canada bought the building in February. They are currently using the space as a community centre but want to apply for a zoning change so they can open a school.
"Our school is open to anybody who wants to come and register their children there," said association spokesman, Ali Assaf.
But Girgis says residents are concerned about what will happen when parking at the community centre is added to the parking at a busy Ukrainian Orthodox church across the street.
"When we look at the projected number of users of that facility and we just see how many parking spaces and the kind of traffic that will be generated because of that, it's just phenomenal," Girgis said. He adds the community spoke out when the church tried to build a new building on its site.
But Assaf said parking shouldn't be a problem and rejected suggestions that people would be coming from all over the city to drop their children off at the school.
"I believe the current infrastructure we have is more than capable of housing what we're looking to do," he said. "The city will determine whether the increases in traffic are going to cause any issues or not, and that's why you go through the city to get permits and zoning."
The association plans to submit a zoning application to the city soon, Assaf said.