Glen Ellyn Sun: A new look at faith group zoning rules

A measure that could streamline the process of establishing places of worship and other forms of assembly in unincorporated DuPage County is heading to the zoning panel that recently has taken up two zoning proposals from Islamic groups.

Members of the county’s Development Committee last week voted to have the Zoning Board of Appeals host a public hearing on the suggested modifications to the county code that were drawn up with staff members, working in conjunction with County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom. A hearing could be scheduled in early August.

The proposed text amendments would allow churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and other gathering places in non-residential district, subjecting them to the same zoning regulations as other uses that don’t chiefly involve habitation.

Among the details that would be governed under the new regulations are land availability, infrastructure considerations, transportation issues and utility needs. The amendments also are intended to make more equitable the parameters placed on places of assembly, such as setbacks, building heights, lot sizes, floor-area ratios and parking.

Committee chairman Tony Michelassi said the proposed changes effectively would establish a new zoning district, while also creating mechanisms that take into account the existing nearby uses to a greater degree than the current code.

“If (a proposed assembly place) is in the back end of a neighborhood, for example, then the Development Committee would have to give that consideration before changing the zoning classification,” he said.

When the draft amendments were being drawn up, there was discussion of meeting with representatives from some of the religious organizations that have sought county permits, to solicit their input. Committee member Debra Olson of Wheaton said she was “a little frustrated” that those conversations have not taken place. She added that she was dissatisfied with how the process is moving ahead, and cast the sole vote against slating a hearing on the amendments.

County planner Paul Hoss said there could be multiple hearings to address the issues that might arise, rather than sessions with “a certain select group of people.”

Committee co-chairman Jeff Redick agreed the zoning panel is the appropriate body for gathering feedback on the proposal.

“I do believe that an open meeting with the ZBA is the place to do that,” Redick said, while also emphasizing that the groups should be kept abreast of the pending hearings.

The matter has come up before. The ZBA earlier this month held a public hearing on a permit request from the Islamic Center of the Western Suburbs, which plans to host prayer five times daily in a onetime home it owns on Army Trail Road near West Chicago. The zoning group has yet to make a recommendation on the request.

More locally, the Irshad Learning Center attempted last year to secure a conditional use permit to open a gathering place and part-time school in a former home the group owns on a 3-acre parcel on 75th Street just east of Naper Boulevard. The Development Committee supported the request, but the ZBA heeded the concerns of neighbors who anticipated the center would diminish the quality of life in the surrounding residential area and recommended against approval.

After the County Board denied the permit in January, the Irshad board handed the matter over to the Chicago office of the Council on American Islamic Relations, which has filed suit against the zoning officials and County Board members who voted against the application.

“Essentially there’s been issues about zoning for religious uses and places of assembly for a long time,” Michelassi said. “Previously there was an attempt to address that through the Development Committee, where religious uses and places of assembly were lumped together in a conditional-use category and could be treated as a right for whatever institution wanted to move onto the property.”

That measure was rejected, but county officials wanted to make another attempt at addressing the issue, he said.