Mosque Developer Rejects Moving to New Location

But a meeting with Paterson may still be in the works

The developer of an Islamic cultural center that would include a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero appears to have rejected Gov. David Paterson's offer to help them find a different site but a meeting may still be in the works.

On Tuesday, Rep. Peter King said he learned the governor planned to speak with the imam and developers of the mosque and cultural center later this week.  Both King and Paterson are scheduled to discuss the issue on Larry King Live tonight.

Lead developer Sharif El-Gamal told NY1 yesterday no meeting had been scheduled yet. Since Paterson first offered to help broker a new location for the mosque last week, however, El-Gamal has insisted the subject was not up for debate, stressing the proximity of the planned center to Ground Zero was not an issue.

"Park51 is a community center. It is two blocks north of the World Trade Center site,” El-Gamal told NY1. “In New York City, two blocks is a great distance. There are some buildings in New York that have their own zip codes. There is such a scarcity of space in New York, especially in Lower Manhattan. Keep in mind this is a small island, so we are nowhere near the World Trade Center site."

Paterson said last week the group is apparently committed to building in the proposed site. "I think they would like to stay where they are, and I certainly respect that and I certainly respect them,"  Paterson said after the group spoke with one of his staff members at the time. The governor did express consternation that he wasn't able to at least have a conversation with the developers, regardless of the outcome. 

"Having said that, how much more foresighted would it have been if the Imam who is the developer of the project had been willing to hear what we are actually talking about?" Paterson said.

On Wednesday, Archbishop Timothy Dolan weighed in on the matter, urging both sides to engage in a "loving, respectful discussion." He also said he would be happy to be included in any future dialogue.

The planned $100 million center would be built two blocks from the World Trade Center site, where nearly 2,800 people died when Islamic extremists flew jets into the twin towers. The project is headed by Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, a Muslim cleric who has worked to improve relations between Islam and the West.

Rauf was scheduled to leave this week on a two-week trip to the Middle East as part of a religious outreach effort by the State Department.

Meanwhile, a majority of New Yorkers remain opposed to ground zero and the issue will be a factor for many voters this fall, according to a statewide poll released Wednesday.

The Siena College poll showed 63 percent of New York voters surveyed oppose the project, with 27 percent supporting it. That compares with 64 percent opposed and 28 percent in favor two weeks earlier, results that are within the polls' sampling margins surveyed 809 New York City residents July 28 through Aug. 5 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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Copyright AP - Associated Press
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