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A nonprofit looking to open a mosque and private school serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade has its sights set on an empty building in Blaine.

The East Blaine Community Center, a nonprofit, recently bought the defunct Minnesota School of Business building on the west side of I-35W near Lexington Avenue for $4 million, said Mark Evenson, with the real estate firm Avison Young.

The nonprofit is now asking the city to rezone the property at 3680 Pheasant Ridge Drive NE. to allow for the East Blaine Mosque and Academy, and will bring its request to the Blaine Planning Commission on Tuesday.

"We are pretty optimistic about our chances and what the mosque and school can do to serve Blaine and the Islamic community in the north metro," said Chris Heinze, an attorney representing the nonprofit. "It's pretty basic. There is no legal reason this should not pass."

The three-story building has been vacant since 2017and sits on property zoned as a "planned business district" (PBD). It's surrounded by land included in the Lexington Ridge and Pheasant Ridge business parks. The city in 2006 approved a code amendment allowing Minnesota School of Business to build a 46,800-square-foot building on the campus.

At the time, the PBD did not allow for a post-secondary school. The city amended the code to allow the for-profit school, saying it supported Blaine employers, would improve the community and business environment, would add value to the business park and would set the standard for land use and architecture, a city staff report said.

Last year, the City Council on consensus decided not to rezone the area or change city ordinance to allow for an elementary school in the business park. A mosque would be allowed on the site, but not an elementary school, according to current zoning regulations.

Plans call for the mosque to occupy the first floor and have room for up to 300 people during worship services. The upper two floors would house the school, which would initially open in September with a projected enrollment of 60 students in kindergarten through grade 2. Additional grades would be added in subsequent years, with a maximum of 25 students per grade level until it reaches full capacity, according to attorneys representing the nonprofit.

In arguing for the city to rezone the property to "development flex," the nonprofit's attorneys say the school would fit in with the purpose of that designation, which allows for greater flexibility in land use while continuing to protect the interests of surrounding properties.

"It would not be detrimental to future land uses in surrounding areas," the attorneys wrote in a letter to Blaine City Planner Sheila Sellman.

Heinze said Blaine has several Christian schools but no Islamic schools, even as the Muslim population has grown, especially in the northern suburbs.

"They want a place where their children can get an education grounded in Islamic culture," Heinze said, explaining why the nonprofit chose Blaine. He added, "it's a nice building" that won't need a lot of construction, and the new use will eliminate an eyesore along the freeway.