The Corner

Ground Zero Mosque Faces More Legal Hurdles

While it’s been widely reported that the Ground Zero mosque has no more legal obstacles preventing construction from starting on the Park51 site, the reality is a little messier (or to use the Left’s favorite term, “nuanced”). In fact, there are at least three potential legal issues: unpaid property taxes (which could be a violation of developer Sharif el-Gamal’s lease agreement with New York utility company and site owner Con Edison), the need for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to approve construction on the Park51 site (it’s above subway lines), and the potential Public Service Commission (PSC) review, which might be necessary if Con Edison agrees to sell its share of the property to the mosque developers.

The New York Fox station reports on the back taxes:

The developer of the Park51 project, Sharif el-Gamal, owes $227,000 in back taxes at the site where he wants to build a mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero, according to the city Finance Department.

El-Gamal owns the former Burlington Coat Factory building and leases the building right next door from Con Edison.

Con Ed told Fox 5 that its lawyers are looking in to whether the tax delinquency violates the lease agreement.

But even if it doesn’t violate the lease agreement (although it does raise questions about the group’s ability to raise the desired $100 million), there’s still the upcoming MTA review. From the New York Post:

Before any building can go forward, the developers also must get approval from the MTA because the 2 and 3 subway lines run under a portion of the Park Place property, The Post has learned.

El-Gamal’s spokesperson insisted … that the “subway lines do not pose a problem.”

When I talked to MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan, he gave this statement:

If a new building were to be proposed for the site, the MTA’s interest would be that it not interfere with the structural integrity of the subway system.

And then there’s still the possibility of a PSC review. But that hinges on a couple of things: first, that el-Gamal is able to buy the Con Edison site (he’s said that he wants to do so, although the property’s estimated price tag of $10 to $20 million seems rather steep for the cash-strapped group), and second, that it be the historical norm for the PSC to review sales of former utility buildings. When I spoke to PSC spokesman James Denn, he told me that they’re currently reviewing records to see if in the past the PSC has reviewed such sales. As of now, there’s no estimated date for when that record review will be completed. So while some, like New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, are hoping that a PSC review will prevent the mosque from being built (in fact, Lazio’s gone so far as to promise that if he’s elected, he will appoint Ground Zero mosque opponents to the PSC), there’s no certainty that the review will occur.

So the bottom line is that the legal battles are far from over. On the other hand, none of these opportunities provide Ground Zero mosque opponents with a chance to gain anything but time. Back taxes can be repaid; the mosque can be constructed such that it doesn’t impact the subway; and counting on the PSC review happening is a huge gamble.

But for those hoping to convince Imam Rauf to move this mosque away from Ground Zero, time may be a valuable ally. A new poll showed that 71% of New Yorkers want the mosque to move. As months go by, and opposition remains strong, the group’s claims that the mosque will help bring understanding between Islam and the U.S. will appear increasingly absurd.

Katrina Trinko — Katrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...

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