Chicago Tribune: DuPage zoning board rejects mosque request

The DuPage County Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday night recommended against a request to construct a mosque in an unincorporated residential neighborhood in the southeastern part of the county.

The board voted 5-2 to reject the petition by the Muslim Educational Cultural Center of America (MECCA) for a conditional-use permit and several building-height variations for a proposed mosque, school and recreation center on 91st Street in unincorporated Willowbrook.

Board members who voted against the project said they have concerns over an oversaturation of religious institutions in the area, traffic congestion and flooding issues.

The proposal is now scheduled to go to the DuPage County Development Committee for review on Feb 1. but the final decision will be made by the county board.

“Granting this request would result in an adverse effect on the adjoining and surrounding properties,” board member Barry Ketter said. “The present application increases in what is my opinion a saturation of religious institutions into this specific area and leaves minimal open space.”

Board member Michael Loftus voted for the MECCA proposal. “The plan submitted by the petitioner addresses the flooding concerns head-on.”

Loftus said traffic from the mosque is not a concern because the county is already planning for increased traffic on 91st Street in the near future.

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

But many neighbors weren’t satisfied with the plan.

Residents have said that four 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.

Regarding congestion, MECCA officials said the mosque will 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 prayer between 1-1:30 p.m.

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

“I’m happy with the board’s decision,” said Marion Youngs, who lives next to the proposed site. “The roads are too narrow in the area for more traffic. There are also a lot of children who walk [near the grammar school] on 91st Street.”

Mark Daniel, attorney for MECCA, said he was disappointed with the board’s decision.

“I think the decision goes contrary to the evidence we have established during the hearing,” Daniel said. “There should absolutely be no concern over storm water. We disagree with their concerns about traffic. And there are not standards that address oversaturation of religious institutions in an area.”

Last month, the DuPage County Zoning Board of Appeals overwhelmingly rejected a petition by an Islamic group to operate a religious center in unincorporated West Chicago. They cited concerns about a possible detrimental impact on well and septic systems and nearby property values.

The West Chicago recommendation will be forwarded to the County Board’s Development Committee for consideration later this month. The county board will make the final decision on the request.

Last year, an Islamic group [CAIR-Chicago] filed a federal lawsuit against the county, alleging discrimination in the rejection of a zoning proposal for an Islamic educational center and place of worship near Naperville.

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

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