Al Madany spokesman pledges that group will stay in Norwalk

NORWALK, Conn. – Members of the Al Madany Islamic Center were convinced they would prevail in the federal lawsuit they filed against Norwalk, but the thing is – they live here, too, a spokesman said Tuesday.

“We feel that we would ultimately be vindicated and would win, but that comes at a cost,” Farhan Memon said after the Common Council unanimously approved the new settlement that had been negotiated. “It comes at a cost for us in terms of time and energy from ourselves and as a community, but also as a cost to us as citizens of Norwalk. Ultimately, we live here and any victory we would have as a mosque would ultimately come back to us as taxpayers of this city, so I think that in total this is good for us as a worshipping community, it’s also good for us as citizens of Norwalk.”

Memon was surrounded by reporters after the council meeting, and said the congregation was looking to stay in Norwalk, even though they had agreed to sell their property at 127 Fillow St. to the city. There had been no deceit on Al Madany’s part, he said, even if some commenters said the settlement amounted to a well-conceived scam.

“These people own a piece of property that they knew the building was too big for,” Ann Marie Hoehler said, during the meeting. “… They held the city hostage and every member of the town here.”

Farhan Memon.
Al Madany spokesman Farhan Memon.

“There was never any intention on our part on flipping the property and squeaking away. … We expected that the city would follow the law as it did in every other instance,” Memon said. “The fact that it didn’t, the fact that it treated us differently, we believe that it would have ultimately prevailed, but that would have taken extra time, years if the city decided to appeal, and it was best for everyone to find a compromise that we can live with today.”

Al Madany had been “fine” with going through with the offer he made at the last council meeting, he said – to suspend any attempt to build on the property for two years if the Council approved the settlement that had been drafted.

Attorney Joe Williams, who represents the Zoning Commission, said Council members weren’t comfortable with that and wanted more concrete guarantees. Memon agreed with that description.

“The city did not want to go in that direction. They wanted a clean break. We felt that if that’s what they wanted they would have to provide the economic means for us to do that,” Memon said.

Norwalk will buy the property at 127 Fillow St. for $585,000, reimburse Al Madany $307,500 for its expenses, pay Al Madany $975,000 for damages, and pay up to $215,000 for development costs at a new location, in the settlement.

“I think the numbers reflect the cost and time that we had put into the property at 127 Fillow Street and the exposure that they city would have been exposed to with the litigation,” Memon said.

Finding the Fillow Street property took years, Memon said. That met the group’s size needs and was affordable, he said.

Despite the difficulty of that he expressed optimism that Al Madany would find something new, with the help of Economic Development Director Elizabeth Stocker, as defined in the settlement.

“I think finding a property is very much a function of time and place,” Memon said. “… We have a little bit more immediate cash available to look for a property. The money that we had at the time that we purchased Fillow Street was $560,000 in cash. Obviously we invested in that over time and Norwalk is buying us out so now we have a lump sum that has been accumulated over several years.”

Many people at the Council meeting said Norwalk’s zoning regulations need to be updated.

“We chose a property in Norwalk that we knew met the zoning requirements and we designed a building that we knew met the zoning requirements,” Memon said. “I am not a zoning expert so I can’t tell you how they are going to change, but I will say that the Common Council recognized that we were obeying the law, that we did have a right to build on that property that would ultimately be vindicated in the courts and they chose to compensate us fairly for not taking it all the way. I think that benefits us as a worshipping community. It also benefits us as citizens of Norwalk because any victory in court that would force the city to pay damages would ultimately force a burden on us as taxpayers as well.”

Asked about the animosity coming from some citizens, Memon said, “I think time heals all wounds. I certainly think that people who may not have had exposure to Muslims other than what they may have read in the newspaper or see on TV certainly were alarmed when they thought that a mosque was going to be built in their community and their reaction was very much of a kneejerk reaction. I think others certainly believed that we had the right to be there and took the time to get to know us. I think time heals all wounds, and as we work in this community people will see that there is nothing to be afraid of.”

Al Madany members live in Norwalk, he said. They work in Norwalk, he said. Of course they want a mosque in Norwalk, he said.

And, he said, “This is a great outcome for our community, it’s a great outcome for the city of Norwalk.”


2 responses to “Al Madany spokesman pledges that group will stay in Norwalk”

  1. Aga Khan

    Norwalkers should be proud of the leadership Mr. Memon has shown not just for his religious community but for us all. He was able to see the big picture and lead his community to an equitable settlement while being mindful that they are also citizens of Norwalk. The City should really try and harness his obvious talents in some way that continues to benefit us all. Are your listening Harry?

  2. Lisa Thomson

    Mr. Memon should be lauded for exposing the broken code, incompetency and cronyism that exists in Planning and Zoning. Now that the politicos have self congratulated themselves are they going to make P&Z update the code, clean up the inconsistent processes and deal with department personnel matters or will they wait for the next lawsuit to occur?

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