Organizers with the Masjidul Salaam Mosque on Bartlett Street in Lewiston are asking to increase the size of their parking lot and increase capacity inside the mosque. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — A proposal from a Bartlett Street mosque to expand its onsite parking and occupancy has been met with concern from abutters over what they say is a larger issue about safety and congestion affecting nearby businesses.

Members and volunteers from the Masjidul Salaam Mosque at 240 Bartlett St. have argued that parking is only a problem during its weekly 45-minute service Fridays, and that adding more capacity to its lot will relieve some of the congestion.

The proposal under consideration would expand the mosque’s lot to 48 spaces and the mosque’s occupancy to 140.

After discussing the issue for a third time earlier this month, the Planning Board voted to give the mosque more time to mitigate the parking issues before a vote is taken March 11.

City staff and at least one abutting business, Leonard Heavy Rescue, have said that during the Friday worship there are often vehicles double parked, blocking other business entrances or parked at the nearby McGraw Park lot. The mosque has an informal agreement with the Colisee for the use of its lot, but it’s not often utilized.

Shelley Norton, acting director of planning and code enforcement, said Planning Board staff made recent visits to the mosque on two Fridays, where they took rough counts of about 165 people entering the building midday, and attributed roughly 75 vehicles in total to the mosque.


Norton said each time a new business or expansion is considered, the city’s ordinance regarding on-site parking requirements must be looked at. The parking standards for religious organizations also place a building occupancy number based on the service, which for the mosque was originally set at 94. A maximum capacity in the building of 300, set by the state fire marshal, is unrelated, she said.

Matthew Theriault, who along with his father, Denis Theriault, operates Leonard Heavy Rescue at 239 Bartlett St., told the Planning Board that they recently lost a considerable amount of money because a car was blocking their entrance and they couldn’t get their truck out.

“With no expansion, we’re already above and beyond,” he said of the parking issues. “If this were another business, you wouldn’t be tolerating this.”

Denis Theriault, a former Planning Board member and city councilor, called the issue “an overuse that impacts abutters.” He also said he is considering legal action regarding the situation.

Norton said the mosque has had ongoing violations related to its occupancy and parking, which is why the mosque leaders proposed the expansion.

A mosque spokeswoman said they are working to address the issue, and have increased volunteers to direct people where to park. One member said they may try shuttling people to the weekly worship.


During the Feb. 12 meeting, Mayor Carl Sheline said the mosque “needs to make more progress” in its efforts to address the issues, and he encouraged the board to give the mosque more time “to educate worshippers, develop a plan to mitigate traffic concerns for nearby businesses and kind of come together to create a way forward.”

When approving the decision to delay a vote until March 11, the Planning Board said in the meantime, photos must be taken each Friday that show the parking situation, and an agreement with the Colisee needs to be further solidified, as well as other conditions.

“If in four weeks, if that’s not been achieved, that makes our decision a little easier,” board member Michael Marcotte said.

Planning Board member Amy Smith agreed that the mosque should have more time to address the parking, but said there should be a certain time limit.

“You need to prove you can stop it and you need to do it in short order,” she said.

Several members of the mosque acknowledged the parking issues, and said they want to work with neighbors on a solution. Mosque member Abdikadir Negeye said they are willing to sit down and discuss the situation with Leonard Heavy Rescue, and that they have not been approached by the business.


Others asked the city to support the mosque’s efforts to increase parking and access to the mosque as its base of worshipers grows.

“We haven’t done the best of job, but we’re trying and it’s something that takes time,” a member who introduced himself as Nuhidin said.

Norton said the city had been allowing the mosque to park more than 25 vehicles on its lot, but when it began enforcing the limit, it exacerbated the on-street parking issues.

Earlier in the meeting, board member Roger Dupre said he believes an increase in parking and occupancy will make the issue worse. He also questioned whether the zoning in the area should allow mosques.

Norton said that issue isn’t under consideration by the board, and that the mosque, which has been there since 2012, would be grandfathered.

Shukri Abdirahman, a member of the mosque, said there have been very limited issues and complaints from neighbors over many years. She also questioned whether there was racism at play given that other large churches in downtown Lewiston also cause periodic traffic issues.

Marcotte later responded that the mosque parking is having an “adverse impact on what’s there,” and said very valid complaints are being “labeled racist.”

Sheline said Wednesday that he’s “hopeful that we can reach a conclusion where the concerns of neighboring businesses are addressed and the mosque can increase capacity for people who want to practice their religious faith.”

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