- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TEMECULA, Calif. | The City Council voted early Wednesday to allow about 150 Muslim families to build a mosque in Temecula after months of angry debate over the plan that included protests and letter-writing campaigns.

The council voted 4-0 to approve the project after a nine-hour meeting that ended after 3:30 a.m.

The plan was approved despite fears from opponents that the Islamic Center of Temecula could bring extremist activity and traffic woes to the region in Riverside County, about 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

The Islamic Center was formed in 1998, and its members have been worshipping in a warehouse for a decade. The group plans to build a 25,000-square-foot, two-story mosque that will be constructed in two stages and will feature domes topped with crescent moons.

The city Planning Commission approved the project in December, but resident George Rombach appealed to the City Council, arguing that other houses of worship were held to more stringent land use requirements — a claim rebuffed by city officials.

Last year, residents flooded the city with letters about the mosque and attended raucous hearings about the project.

Supporters, including members of other Temecula-area houses of worship, rallied around the Islamic community and cited the contributions made by American Muslims.

“The hallmark of our country is that we allow all faiths and beliefs to be practiced and that we, as a country, tend to give people the benefit of the doubt until they prove differently,” Ada Hand wrote to the commission.

Hundreds of opponents turned out at the council meeting to object to the project.

“I’m afraid our freedoms are at stake with this kind of a neighbor,” resident Connie Power wrote before the hearing.