Daily Herald: DuPage reverses itself, approves Islamic prayer center

With a federal judge waiting for its decision, the DuPage County Board on Tuesday reversed its position and approved plans for an Islamic prayer center near West Chicago.

Board members voted 10-7 to approve Islamic Center of Western Suburbs’ request to transform a house at 28W774 Army Trail Road into a religious institution. The decision came more than a year after a previous board voted 15-3 to reject the application.

“The facts that I have in front of me lead me to the inescapable conclusion this conditional use must be granted for a variety of reasons,” board member Sam Tornatore said before voting in favor of the project.

Tornatore, who serves as chairman of the board’s development committee, insists his vote wasn’t influenced by the federal lawsuit Islamic Center of Western Suburbs filed against DuPage after the May 2012 vote.

“For me,” he said, “it’s the right thing to do.”

Still, the reason the county board reconsidered its earlier decision was because the judge hearing the lawsuit directed DuPage and the center to resolve their dispute.

That order came after another group, Irshad Learning Center, successfully sued DuPage. In the Irshad case, a federal judge overturned the county board’s January 2010 decision to deny a conditional-use permit for a planned Islamic education facility near Naperville.

Last week, the judge ordered the county to issue the permit so the education center can open in what used to be a house at 25W030 75th St. DuPage also has agreed to pay $445,000 to Irshad as part of a settlement agreement, officials said.

Mark Daniel, the attorney representing Islamic Center of Western Suburbs, called Tuesday’s county board decision “a step in the direction” toward resolving his client’s case against DuPage.

“Fortunately, the vote came out in favor of (the center’s) use,” Daniel said. “We have to look at the conditions and determine how to proceed next.”

Islamic Center of Western Suburbs bought the house in 2008. Supporters have said they need the worship space because they have no other nearby site.

The conditional-use permit will expire in five years. It also comes with a list of conditions, including one to limit the facility to no more than 30 worshippers during each of the five daily prayer services. The total number of visitors is limited to 166 a day.

The center’s leaders also agreed not to use the site for larger events such as Friday services or during Ramadan.

Still, neighbors opposed to the project said they’re baffled about why Tuesday’s vote even took place.

“It was over a year ago,” said Jacqueline Sitkiewicz, whose property is behind the site. “Why are we here? Because some judge says, ‘No, have a do-over?’ Why have a county board? Why don’t you just go right to the judge whenever there’s an issue?”

Neighbors say they continue to believe the project will cause flooding, increase traffic and lower property values.

Meanwhile, they say, there’s been no significant changes made to the plan compared to what was rejected last year. The only new factor, they said, was the lawsuit.

County board member Tony Michelassi, who supported the plan, said the conditions imposed on the center are part of an effort to address residents’ concerns.

The center, for example, must have annual inspections of its septic system and demonstrate to the county that the property is being properly maintained.

“The concerns that a lot of the board members were talking about last time this came through had to do with stormwater and the septic system,” Michelassi said. “Those have been alleviated by the conditions that have been placed on this.”

But even with the conditions, board member Jim Zay said the house shouldn’t be converted into a religious institution.

“I don’t care if it’s a mosque, a temple, a synagogue, a church,” Zay said. “It’s a single-family home in a residential area.”