Chicago Tribune: DuPage zoning panel opposes plan for mosque near Willowbrook

Critics have long expressed worry about potential flooding and traffic problems with a proposed mosque in unincorporated Willowbrook. But one official has dipped into another concern — what he calls an oversaturation of places of worship.

“The present application increases in what is my opinion a saturation of religious institutions into this specific area and leaves minimal open space,” said Barry Ketter, a DuPage County Zoning Board of Appeals member opposed to the proposal.

One block north of the proposed site is the Sts. Kiril & Metodij Macedonian Orthodox Church, two blocks away is the Buddha-Dharma Meditation Center, and several blocks south of the site is a Chinmaya Mission religious facility.

Amina Sharif, with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said she is concerned that officials are trying to limit religious institutions. In April, the group filed a lawsuit against the county alleging discrimination in rejecting a zoning proposal for an Islamic education center and place of worship near Naperville.

Last month, the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals also overwhelmingly recommended rejecting a petition by an Islamic group to operate a religious center in unincorporated West Chicago, citing a possible detrimental impact on well and septic systems and nearby property values.

The county is also holding hearings over a controversial proposal to prohibit religious facilities in unincorporated residential areas, though pending projects would not be subject to the new ordinance, if it is adopted.

“There are many Christian churches and Jewish synagogues already built in DuPage County,” said Sharif. “Muslims, however, are just beginning to move to the suburbs, and a law prohibiting religious facilities (such as mosques) will limit that growth.”

On Thursday, the Zoning Board voted 5-2 to recommend rejecting the request by the Muslim Educational Cultural Center of America (MECCA) for a proposed mosque, school and recreation center in a residential area near Willowbrook. The issue now goes before the County Board’s Development Committee on Feb. 1.

The Development Committee will examine road and traffic implications, stormwater drainage, safety and other issues relating to the county code, according to county officials.

Development Committee member Brian Krajewski, whose district includes the proposed site, said flooding and traffic issues may be a concern.

“The area has seen a lot of flooding problems,” said Krajewski. “The road (91st Street) is a one-lane road and may not be able to sustain more traffic.”

In August, a site engineer for MECCA told the board and residents that workers would install drainage tiles on the property and store the water in containers under the property. He said the water would slowly release into four retention ponds over a 24-hour period to avoid flash flooding.

But many neighbors weren’t satisfied with the plan.

Residents have said the retention ponds near the proposed development are already filled to capacity during heavy rains, and they worry about more water runoff from the mosque parking lot.

MECCA officials said the mosque would hold five daily prayer services, bringing about 30 people to each. They said the largest number of members during a typical week would come to the location for Friday prayers between 1 and 1:30 p.m.

The site will contain more than 200 parking spots, but most members car pool, they said. In addition, the school, which would have an estimated 250 students, isn’t expected to be built for an additional five years, according to MECCA officials.

Kevin Vodak, staff attorney for the American-Islamic council [CAIR], said the lawsuit concerning a Naperville-area mosque is delayed and is waiting for the judge to make a decision on a motion by the county to dismiss the case.

Among other things, the suit contends that the county put stricter regulations and higher standards on the construction of the mosque when compared with other religious facilities that went up in the area, he said.

A public hearing on the text amendment ban for religious institutions will be held Jan. 31.