Lawsuit brought by Bosnian Muslim congregation against Des Plaines

A Bosnian Muslim group that was turned down by the Des Plaines City Council in regard to converting a building into a mosque has filed a lawsuit against the suburb:

But aldermen say allowing any house of worship in an industrial park would endanger pedestrians and impede neighboring manufacturers.

“I don’t care if they’re Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, whatever. It’s not zoned for that particular area,” said Ald. Mark Walsten, who was named in the suit because he voted against an amendment to accommodate the mosque. “Whenever there are children involved in an industrial area, I will not have that on my conscience.”

Members of the American Islamic Center, who have rented space in a Rolling Meadows mosque since March 2011, had hoped to purchase the vacant building, formerly occupied by an insurance company. Many of the center’s 160 members fled Bosnia in the 1990s to escape war and genocide.

In fact, Bosnian immigrants opened the first mosque in Chicago almost a century ago, Agic said, and Illinois has the nation’s largest Bosnian-born population…

The Des Plaines Plan Commission unanimously recommended a zoning amendment to accommodate the center. But in July, the City Council voted down the proposed amendment.

Classic suburban case: zoning laws against the ability of residents to pursue their interests. And the Des Plaines City Council is appealing to safety and business concerns. There have been several cases in recent years in the Chicago suburbs having to do with requests from Muslim groups being denied by suburban communities. See this case involving DuPage County near Naperville, this case near West Chicago, and and this case in Lombard.

It is not unusual for a Plan Commission to recommend one thing and the City Council to vote the other way but it would still be interesting to hear their different reasons.

Another chance for DuPage County Board to review proposed mosque near West Chicago

A federal court has given DuPage County officials another chance to review a proposal for a mosque near West Chicago:

Islamic Center of Western Suburbs in August filed the lawsuit claiming that DuPage discriminated against the group by rejecting its request to use a house at 28W774 Army Trail Road as a religious institution. The legal action was taken after DuPage County Board members on May 8, 2012, voted 15-3 to deny a conditional-use permit.

Then in March, DuPage lost a similar lawsuit filed by another religious organization. That prompted a federal judge to give the county and Islamic Center of Western Suburbs a chance to resolve their dispute.

The neighbors to the property are still not happy about the proposal:

Still, neighbors remain strongly opposed to the conditional-use request. About 50 of them attended Monday night’s public hearing.

Several of the neighbors voiced concerns about the possibility of flooding, increased traffic and lower property values. They say the house should remain a single-family home.

“We have a right to enjoy our properties without the intrusion of a commercial property butting into our neighborhood,” said Laura Wiley, who lives adjacent to the property. “It is changing the landscape of our neighborhood. It is going to inhibit our personal enjoyment of our property.”

Sounds like a typical NIMBY situation: the neighbors say the property will harm their quality of life while studies by the group bringing the proposal suggest there will be few issues. I’ve just been reading Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America and there seem to be some parallels here. Suburbanites continue to make an economic, rather than racial, argument that they should be able to defend the value of their hard-earned property versus what they view as intrusions.

What happens if the DuPage County Board rejects the proposal again? The article suggests the Board can’t really do that as a similar case in Naperville (see here) has moved forward and the Islamic learning center will be built. So, it will be interesting to watch this upcoming vote…

Federal judge reverses DuPage County, says Islamic worship center can go forward near Naperville

A federal judge says an Islamic worship center can locate just outside of Naperville:

The Irshad Learning Center had sought to open a worship center for up to 100 people inside a single-family home at 25W030 75th St. that had been previously used as a private school.

In 2010, the county board voted 10-7 to deny its application for a conditional use permit after some neighbors complained their property values would go down.

Irshad, which has about 75 members, filed a lawsuit challenging the decision on grounds ranging from religious discrimination to the county’s alleged violations of its own zoning laws.

Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer found in a 70-page ruling there was no “direct evidence of deliberate discrimination” by the county or its workers, though she noted that a zoning board of appeals member had asked the group’s attorney if animal sacrifices would be held.

But she did find that DuPage County’s “repeated errors, speculation and refusal to impose conditions” under which the project could be approved led her to conclude that the county had wrongly imposed a “substantial burden” on the group’s application and that its denial was “arbitrary and capricious.”

A few cases like this in the Chicago area in recent years have generated controversy (see here, here, and here). Now it remains to be seen how neighbors respond once the Islamic Center is open.

Land for mosque to be annexed by Naperville

Here is an update on a story I’ve been following: Naperville agreed earlier this week to annex a parcel of land on its southern border that is intended to be used for a mosque.

Naperville officials agreed to annex land owned by the Islamic Center of Naperville, capping several months of resistance among neighbors of the parcel in the southwest part of the suburb.

Representatives of the religious group say the 14 acres along 248th Avenue between 95th and 103rd streets, could be home to a mosque in five to 20 years.

For now, the Islamic Center plans to use a house on the property — formerly owned by HOPE United Church of Christ — as a residence and office and may occasionally hold small prayer gatherings there.

For several months, the proposed annexation has generated protests by residents in the nearby Tall Grass and Penncross Knolls subdivisions who have said they are worried about issues like noise, traffic and parking once the mosque is built.

See the earlier post here.

I suppose I am still a little perplexed by the opposition this proposed mosque has encountered. I used this as an example in my American Suburbanization class this fall along with several other recent cases regarding proposed mosques in DuPage County. At this point, the building is still years away and the main question was about whether the land should be annexed into Naperville. One quote reported from a public meeting about the annexation is still in my head:

“I’d prefer a trailer park,” said Richard Wylie, a nearby resident. “It would be a lower frequency of people coming and going.”

Is there really anybody in Naperville who can really say this with a straight face? A trailer park in Naperville? Beyond the fringes of the metropolitan region, is there any community that would openly desire a trailer park? I’m not saying these are necessarily bad places but many suburban communities would want to avoid these because of their image.

I’ll keep watching this to see what happens. At this point, it sounds like the annexation will go forward and the landowners will continue to think about a possible mosque for the future.

How Americans would respond to a new large religious building nearby

I’ll post a Quick Review of American Grace soon (see an earlier post here) but I wanted look at an excerpt about another topic I have written about recently: how suburban governments respond to requests for the construction of religious buildings (this includes churches and mosques). Here is a description of findings from the 2007 Faith Matters Survey (pages 512-514)

How Americans respond to land use matters involving religious groups depends on the religion in questions. According to the 2007 Faith Matter survey, an overwhelming majority of Americans (92 percent) say that the construction of a large Christian church in their community would either not both them (55 percent) or is something they would welcome (37 percent). This level of acceptance is high even among the most secular tenth of the population (87 percent), although their reaction is far less supportive. Eighty-two percent of the highly secular say that they would merely “not be bothered” by a large Christian church, while just 5 percent would explicitly welcome it.

Because of the near-ubiquity of Christian churches in American communities, we were also interested in reactions to a religious facility that would unfamiliar to many Americans, and so we asked about the construction of a “large Buddhist temple.”…

The point of asking about both kinds of religious structures it to distinguish among different reasons for opposing their construction. Some people might oppose both a large Christian church and a large Buddhist temple because they object to the construction of any sizable structure in their neighborhood, whether it be a church, a temple, a restaurant, a store. Or it could be because they have an aversion to religion of any kind. However, opposition to a Buddhist temple but not a Christian church would suggest that the concern lies with Buddhism specifically or perhaps “exotic” (or non-Christian) religions more generally.

For Buddhists who might be planning to build a temple, our results contain good news and bad news. The good news is the high overall support, at least in the abstract for a Buddhist temple. Three quarters of Americans (76 percent) say they have no problem with the construction of a large Buddhist temple in their neighborhood. The bad news is that only a small number (15 percent) would explicitly welcome it in their midst. Even worse news for the Buddhists is that one in five Americans (20 percent) say that they have no problem with a large Christian church but would object to a Buddhist temple…Approval of a Buddhist temple drops precipitously as personal religiosity increases…

These are interesting findings that suggest Americans are pretty favorable toward large new churches in their community and a majority would be favorable toward a large Buddhist temple. A few thoughts about these findings:

1. The interchanging of the term “community” and “neighborhood” bothers me. The original survey questions (see here) ask about buildings built in a community. I would assume many survey respondents would perceive a neighborhood as a smaller, closer geographic area and might respond differently. It would be one thing for a Naperville resident to express support for a Buddhist temple on the other side of the community, perhaps 7-8 miles away, compared to expressing support for a temple within a 15 minute walk.

2. I would suspect that more Americans would be less supportive if the questions asked about large religious buildings very close to their home. Residential neighbors often get worked up about such structures, not people from the other side of the community (unless it is a smaller community). This would be NIMBY in action.

3. The word “large” in the survey questions is a bit unclear here: are we talking about a megachurch or a congregation of 300? The sorts of problems Americans complain about regarding large structures, such as traffic, are larger with bigger buildings.

4. It’s too bad there isn’t a third question asking about responses to a proposal for a large mosque. While both Buddhists and Muslims are rated low according to larger American religious groups (see pages 501-509), I wonder if many Americans wouldn’t see Islam as more foreign than Buddhism.

On the whole, I am a bit skeptical that these survey results reflect zoning and municipal discussions regarding large religious congregations. Perhaps a very vocal minority tends to oppose such buildings – this tends to characterize a lot of local development discussions. But when residents feel threatened by such large structures, their magnanimity may decrease.

Mosque proposed for unincorporated site in DuPage County

The Chicago area has experienced several proposals in recent years for mosques to be built in the suburbs. Several proposals have been in DuPage County where communities or the County have rejected plans. There is a new proposal being brought forward now for an unincorporated site near Lombard, meaning it will be under review by DuPage County:

Proclaim Truth Charitable Trust is seeking a conditional-use permit that would allow it to demolish a 65-year-old single-family house along Highland Avenue and construct a new 5,200-square-foot mosque.

Sabet Siddiqui, the group’s representative, stressed to members of DuPage County’s zoning board of appeals Thursday night that the proposed mosque would be used by about 100 families who live in the area and currently attend services in Villa Park.

“Unlike other mosques and synagogues and churches that you folks have heard in the past, this is a different scale and different scope,” Siddiqui told the board. “It’s a small neighborhood mosque.”…

Siddiqui said he believes the mosque would be “a perfect fit” for a neighborhood that already has two churches and a synagogue. He said the brick and masonry structure is designed to “match the surrounding residences as much as possible.”

Almost all the residents who attended Thursday night’s public hearing voiced support for the plan, including a representative from neighboring Congregation Etz Chaim.

In comparison to some of the other cases, it sounds like this particular proposal is experiencing a stronger welcome from residents in the neighborhood.

It would be interesting to do a study of these cases that have popped up in recent years. Do Christian churches experience the same kind of process and complaints that mosques do? How exactly do nearby residents voice concerns – it is typical NIMBY material like traffic, parking, and noise or are there broader issues brought up in the cases of the mosques? Is the support or concerns about the proposed mosques tied more to the size of the mosque or is it more about the demographics of the surrounding neighborhood?