Amherst: Sign Takes Apparent Swipe at New Mosque

5:25 PM, May 11, 2011   |    comments
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AMHERST, N.Y. -- Local Muslim leaders are angry over a lawn sign next to a new Mosque; some call the sign "racist" and "hateful".

The Jaffarya Center on Transit Road in the Town of Amherst will have its grand opening celebration next weekend, and leaders say the community has welcomed them with open arms. That's why they're so shocked to see the sign, which reads "Bomb Making Next Driveway."

"My initial reaction was couldn't believe it," Dr. Khalid Qazi with the Muslim Public Affairs Council said. "It is totally uncalled for."

The sign sits in the front yard of Michael Heick, who claims he placed it there in a desperate attempt to draw attention to his two-year battle with the Mosque and the Town.

Heick spoke exclusively with 2 On Your Side. He said the Mosque has ruined his home and that Amherst officials refuse to enforce the code.

Heick showed Channel 2 home video and pictures that reveal the mosque's lights shining into his backyard and home. The lights are too tall and do not have the required shields to block the lights from disturbing neighboring homes.

The mosque also hasn't installed high impact screening around its facility to block car lights, something that is also required. Finally, Heick complains about the heating and cooling system noise. Add it all together, and Heick says he has spent around $20,000 on legal bills to fight the Town. In addition, he has called police at least 8 times to report violations.

2 On Your Side looked through the plans with Commissioner of Building Thomas Ketchum.

"I wouldn't consider (the Mosque) anything unusual for a new project," Ketchum said.

Ketchum said outstanding issues caused him to issue a conditional certificate of occupancy, which allows the Mosque to be used, but under the condition that code violations are corrected.

"So the neighbor's assertion that the town has been ignoring this, you would say that's false?" 2 On Your Side asked Ketchum.

"I would say that's absolutely false," Ketchum responded. "We have been persuing compliance on all the issues right from the start of the project."

Muslim leaders say, no matter his concerns, Mr. Heick had no right to offend an entire religion that is based on peace and not hate.

"This is going to be a place for peace," Dr. Qazi said. "This is going to be a place for people to come together."

Mosque leaders contacted Amherst Police and also the FBI. They are also inviting the Heick family to their grand opening celebration next Saturday, May 14 at 2 p.m.

Dr. Syed Jaffri, who serves on the board of trustees for the Shiite Muslim Community of WNY, said the center is dedicated to being the best neighbor possible and hopes to "break bread" with Mr. Heick in the future. Mosque leaders insisted they will be in full compliance with the Town's code standards and will fix any outstanding problems.

When asked by 2 On Your Side why he would use such offensive language on the sign, Heick said, "I've been going through this the right way for years. The right way didn't work."

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