In the last year or so, several proposals to build mosques in the Chicago region have met with zoning resistance (see this example in unincorporated Lombard). In order to ease some of these issues, several Islamic groups in DuPage County met to discuss how to better present their cases for new religious buildings:
Members of several suburban Islamic organizations heard from experts in land use and zoning law Saturday at a convention designed to help groups work together and understand the process of building new religious institutions…
The event comes as the county board recently reviewed five zoning cases from Muslim communities looking to construct worship spaces in unincorporated areas of DuPage County.
A representative of one such group said fostering relationships with elected officials and keeping the public informed are key to improving a mosque construction plan’s chances of success. Bringing up the possibility of religious prejudice or Isalmophobia, is counterproductive, said Hani Atassi of Muslim Educational and Cultural Center of America, which won approval in March to build a mosque along 91st street near Willowbrook…
Many concerns raised by elected officials and prospective mosque neighbors are legitimate ones about parking, noise, extra light and stormwater management, said Kathleen Foley, a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, who spoke at Saturday’s summit.
“Not all opponents are bigots. Not all of them are driven by fear,” Foley said. “Sometimes parking concerns are just parking concerns.”
The suggestion here is that the zoning resistance is not due to fears of mosques or Muslims but rather is typical suburban NIMBYism. And the answer to dealing with this is to try to improve relations with neighbors so that the new building is not seen as a threat to the neighborhood.
Is there some way to better balance local zoning rules with the interests of religious groups? Mosques are not the only buildings that have had difficulty getting past zoning boards; there was a recent article about churches that have encountered similar difficulties, whether in suburban neighborhoods or downtowns that communities would rather space go to tax-generating commercial space. The larger issue here is suburban NIMBYism that often seems resistant to any changes, let alone the construction of more houses or religious buildings. When we hear that “sometimes parking concerns are just parking concerns,” we should be discussing whether these parking concerns are really justified.