I’ve been tracking the cases of several proposals for mosques in DuPage County and one of the cases was in the news yesterday because of a ruling that did not allow a variance for the 50-60 foot tall structure:
During a heated hearing that included accusations from the public of demagoguery and religious insensitivity, the DuPage County Development Committee failed to endorse the plan on a 3-3 vote. The committee’s ruling followed a rejection of the proposal by the DuPage County Zoning Board of Appeals, said committee Chairman Tony Michelassi, who voted in favor of the project.
The group previously tried to win approval for a 69-foot dome and a 79-foot minaret when the County Board first considered construction of the mosque. Amid fierce opposition, construction of the religious center on 91st Street near Illinois Highway 83 was approved while a waiver to build the higher dome and minaret was denied…
MECCA leaders most recently sought a waiver to construct a dome that would peak 50 feet off the ground and a 60-foot minaret, the tall spire from which the faithful are traditionally called to prayer.
But with a cap on the height of new religious buildings set at 36 feet in residential areas, the group could not realistically construct a dome and minaret that are functional and true to religious custom, Daniel said.
Opponents of the mosque have said, among other things, that the structure would be obtrusive. The faith of future MECCA congregants has nothing to do with their opposition, nearby residents say. They noted that six churches of different denominations peacefully coexist in the neighborhood.
This continues to be a very interesting case: 50-60 feet tall is roughly 5 to 6 stories. This is considerably taller than many suburban buildings (where apartment buildings over a few stories are generally rare) but perhaps more in line with a tall traditional church steeple (though fewer churches desire steeples these days).
This case hinges on new zoning laws regarding religious structures passed by DuPage County in 2011. Here is some of the debate about this zoning change as recorded by the Daily Herald in October 2011:
DuPage officials say the zoning changes are needed because unincorporated residential areas don’t have the infrastructure needed to support new places of assembly. Existing roads, sewers, and septic and well systems weren’t designed for the uses, they argue.
However, DuPage officials dropped a controversial idea to prohibit new places of assembly in residential neighborhoods. The existing proposal allows new places of assembly in residential areas as long as certain requirements are met.
County board member Grant Eckhoff said the goal is to balance the rights of property owners and their neighbors. The proposed regulations give groups the opportunity to seek construction projects while protecting “the essential character” neighborhoods, he said…
The new rules also place greater restrictions on the size of religious buildings. Another suggestion is to prohibit organizations from converting an existing single-family house into a place of worship.
I noted the final 16-0 vote in favor of these limits on religious congregations that took place shortly after the above Daily Herald article. These new regulations seem to be primarily on the side of existing residents as it is the religious group that must prove that their structure does not put a hardship on the neighborhood. In other words, the religious group must have the support of the neighborhood at the very least to get a variance to the regulations approved.