Group has ‘gone above and beyond what is asked of them,’ County Board member says
The distinctive minaret and golden dome will be absent, but a Muslim group — after months of controversy — won approval Tuesday to build a mosque near Willowbrook.
A conflict between the religious group’s right to practice its faith and the local community’s concern about overdevelopment gave way to compromise when the DuPage County Board accepted a scaled-back proposal of the mosque from the Muslim Educational Cultural Center of America, orMECCA.
After rejecting a call to send the matter back to the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals for further study, the board signed off on the revised plan by approving a conditional-use permit 13-5.
“I was anticipating the good that was going to come out of this,” said Lena Kasi Touleimat, a member of MECCA.
The group wants to replace its existing place of worship, a cramped commercial office space near a local Kmart, with a new facility on 91st Street near Illinois Highway 83.
Opponents expressed concerns that the mosque would negatively impact residents near the site, but their opinions didn’t sway the board.
“The petitioner has gone above and beyond what is asked of them,” said Board Member Rita Gonzalez, a Democrat fromAddison.
Despite Tuesday’s resolution, other conflicts over mosque proposals remain in DuPage County.
Board members in January 2010 rejected a proposed mosque near Naperville, which prompted supporters to file a federal lawsuit that is pending. Proposals for facilities near West Chicago and Lombard also are under consideration and being debated.
In addition, the county has considered — but appears to be backing away from — a proposal to prohibit the construction of any more places of assembly, including religious institutions, in unincorporated residential areas.
Though such conflicts have led to concerns of religious discrimination, supporters of the MECCA site were not pointing fingers Tuesday.
“I can’t read people’s minds, but I have heard from neighbors that this was not about religion, and I believe them,” said Touleimat, who lives in Burr Ridge. “The work for us has just begun. Now our job is to show them how good of a neighbor we can be.”
“We left it to Allah and we trust what he does,” added Lubna Farooq, a board member of MECCA.
The next step for the group is to apply for an excavation permit so the group can construct two underground storage tanks to collect runoff stormwater. Once the tanks are installed the group can apply for a building permit, said Paul Hoss, zoning coordinator for the county. The permits do not require board approval.
Residents who live near the proposed site who attended the meeting were mostly disappointed.
“I’m unhappy,” said Larry Senters. “I’m worried about flooding and traffic. We gave it our best shot. It’s not about religion. I just think it’s too big for the area.”
MECCA President Abdulgany Hamadeh said he has already given out his cell phone number to neighbors, should they have problems day or night.
MECCA leaders agreed to a number of concessions to get their plans approved.
Eliminated from its proposal were a minaret and dome — considered sacred components of a mosque — and a multipurpose room. The size was decreased from 57,000 square feet to 47,000 square feet and dropped in height from 36 feet to 29 feet.
In addition to the changes to the building, MECCA agreed to conduct a traffic study within a year to address congestion issues that may arise.
The board had not approved zoning relief for a mosque since 1994 when a site in Hinsdale was approved, Hoss said. Other Muslim organizations have been granted building permits, including one in 2009 at North Avenue, just west of Interstate Highway 355. That site did not need board approval because it was in a commercial zoning district, he said.
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago Office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the group that filed the lawsuit against the county in the Naperville case, said Tuesday’s decision bodes well for other proposals.
“I think they made the right decision not just for the Muslim community but for the county and the country,” Rehab said. “They voted yes for pluralism, they voted yes to strengthened diversity and yes to equal opportunity for all of us. We hope that this decision will have a positive influence on the other pending cases.”