A variance request hearing that was supposed to be focused on parking and public safety concerns surrounding the placement of an Islamic Center at 1513 S. Fifth Avenue turned into testimony about religious tolerance and fear of Islam Thursday night.

Originally scheduled for the small Paradise meeting room in Pocatello City Hall, the hearing was moved to the City Council Chamber to accommodate more than 100 people — most of them Muslims.

Hearing officer Jim Mullen tried to limit input to planning and zoning issues, but citizen comments soon expanded — at times resembling a spirited religious debate.

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