Does mosque settlement proposal address all issues?

NORWALK, Conn. – Does the proposed legal settlement of the suit filed by the Al Madany Islamic Center against the city of Norwalk over the denial of a permit to build a mosque and accessory building address the Zoning Commission issues?

No one involved in the negotiations, other than the lawyers, whom we have already quoted, will talk about what went on in the talks, per court order.

The following includes the nine-point reason for denial from the June 6, 2012 Zoning Commission minutes. We compared the denial resolution, which passed the commission vote, 4-3, with the settlement proposal. In italics are our notes. We have attached the full minutes of that meeting and the released settlement documents.

1. The claimed accessory uses in the large rear building have not been clearly defined by the applicant as required in the Special Permit application instructions and section 118-1450B of the regulations; We did not see any definition of use in the documents provided beyond what was originally proposed.

2. The traffic report failed to identify any uses or analyze any uses of the rear building as required in the Special Permit application instructions and section 118-1450B of the regulations; We did not see any definition of use in the documents provided beyond what was originally proposed.

3. The density of the use and the bulk of the buildings (118-1450C1a) is not in harmony with the general purpose and intent of the regulations, to wit, it is substantially larger than most places of worship, it would not blend well with the surrounding residential neighborhood, and could not be adequately screened from the neighbors’ views; Size of building and screening issues were addressed; building size was reduced, and screening landscape was enhanced.

4. The rear building is much larger than the main building (place of worship), and therefore, we find that it does not comply with section 118-310B(4) in that it is not incidental to and customarily associated with the principal Special Meeting of the Zoning Commission use, further, it is inconsistent with the low density nature of the zone and with local street characteristics (section 118-310A); rear building size was reduced; usable space was reduced by about 47 percent.

5. The proposal to share parking with an offsite church does not comply with the parking regulations (section 118-1220 H and K), to wit, no long term parking agreement was submitted, nor any proof provided that that those spaces are available for use during the times needed by the applicant. Moreover, the offsite parking proposal itself is acknowledgement that there is not sufficient parking on the site; Parking issues were addressed, including making 135 onsite spaces instead of 89. Offsite parking was addresses as well.

6. The rear building which is not part of the religious function is not eligible for the height exemption under section 118-810K, and therefore; it exceeds the height maximum requirement; Height was brought under the 40-foot maximum.

7. Due to insufficient parking, the bulk of the buildings, and the lack of screening, the project will adversely impact property values and therefore does not comply. with section 118-1450C(1)(h) – impact on neighborhood properties as compared to uses and structures permitted as of right; Parking, building size and screening were all addressed.

8. The project proposed inadequate screening and buffering (118-1450C(1)(g)) which is not in harmony with the general purpose and intent of the regulations. The proposal has not, and perhaps, cannot propose large enough plantings to screen the buildings due to their height and bulk; Landscaping buffer/screening issues were addressed.

9. Due to inadequate parking as well as the bulk of the rear building and its ability to accommodate approximately 400 people seated around tables or 850 people seated in chairs we believe that the project will impact stable traffic flow (118-1450C(1)(b)). The applicant submitted inadequate traffic analyses with this regard and we feel that the oppositions’ Traffic Engineer gave credible testimony as to adverse impact of traffic. Useable space in back building was reduced by nearly half, parking was increased as noted, traffic issues were addressed.

Remember, RLUIPA places the burden on the municipality to prove why governmental interests should override the right of religious practices. Some of what was not changed may have been considered to be protected by the law. From the U.S. Department of Justice website: http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/rluipaexplain.php

RLUIPA prohibits zoning and landmarking laws that substantially burden the religious exercise of churches or other religious assemblies or institutions absent the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. This prohibition applies in any situation where: (i)  the state or local government entity imposing the substantial burden receives federal funding; (ii)  the substantial burden affects, or removal of the substantial burden would affect, interstate commerce; or (iii)  the substantial burden arises from the state or local government’s formal or informal procedures for making individualized assessments of a property’s uses. In addition, RLUIPA prohibits zoning and landmarking laws that:

(1) treat churches or other religious assemblies or institutions on less than equal terms with nonreligious institutions;

(2)  discriminate against any assemblies or institutions on the basis of religion or religious denomination;

(3)  totally exclude religious assemblies from a jurisdiction; or

(4) unreasonably limit religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a jurisdiction.

The Department of Justice can investigate alleged RLUIPA violations and bring a lawsuit to enforce the statute. The Department can obtain injunctive, but not monetary, relief. Individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions can also bring a lawsuit in federal or state court to enforce RLUIPA.

June 6, 2012 mosque application denial





27 responses to “Does mosque settlement proposal address all issues?”

  1. anon


    Kudos to you for posting information.

    Anyway you can post both traffic studies mentioned in the report.

    Traffic affects everyone in Norwalk.

  2. Bruce Kimmel

    Mark, thank you. I continue to appreciate the professional manner and solid journalistic standards you have used in dealing with this complex issue.

  3. Jeff

    Mr. Kimmel, as the primary cheerleader and proponent of this settlement, could you shed light on why city officials never petitioned the court to discuss any settlement options with the public prior to setting up the framework for this deal (despite a majority of the neighborhood being vehemently opposed)? Also, what is the point for next Thursday’s meeting as this looks like a done deal and will serve only to create frustration among those who have been given no voice.

    Last I checked, aren’t officials representatives of the people?

  4. isabelle hargrove

    According to the comparison chart, the sq/ft of the first floor of the auxiliary building is over 91% of the original floor space. Can it still “accommodate approximately 400 people seated around tables or 850 people seated in chairs”? If so, the negative impact on stable traffic flow (118-1450C(1)(b)) remains unchanged and the applicant’s submitted traffic analyses with this regard remain inadequate and the oppositions’ Traffic Engineer still gives credible testimony as to adverse impact of traffic.
    The proposal to share parking with an offsite church does not comply with the parking regulations (section 118-1220 H and K). How has this been answered?
    1, 2, 3 are still not addressed.
    An additional 46 parking spaces for a 40,000 sq/ft mass (yes, that’s the total bulk of this complex, with a 21,000+ foot print) which can accommodate 1,000+ people fixes the parking problem? Then why the need for the city to pay for a gate for the condos?
    Screening and buffering has been addressed? The publicized digital picture on the front façade certainly does not support this statement. The front façade remains unchanged and the original commission opined that “…perhaps, cannot propose large enough plantings to screen the buildings due to their height and bulk.
    Why do none of the #s include the current red house? Including this house, the total coverage is probably greater than 25%.

  5. LWitherspoon

    @Mark Chapman
    Thank you for posting the information. Hopefully going forward this discussion will be based more on fact than emotion.
    With respect to reasons 3 and 4, which object to the bulk of the buildings, I have doubts that the bulk of the buildings has significantly shrunk. The community center is just 4 feet shorter; “usable” square footage has dropped but apart from the four foot reduction, the bulk is the same. A portion of the bulk is now an at-grade parking deck.

  6. Aga Khan

    Some opponents of the mosque like Ms. Hargrove will be opposed to a mosque on Fillow street in any format. Let’s remember that this configuration like the first one complies fully with the zoning regulations.

    Ms Hargrove keeps mentioning that the multipurpose hall will fit 1000 people. There aren’t enough parking spaces for that many people so why would the mosque hold such an event there? This is nothing but scare tactics. The room is large because it’s a gym. City officials have admitted that they don’t calculate capacity for any other religious building the way Ms. Hargrove proposes. This is why the mosque keeps saying that they are being held to a different standard.

    I hope the ZC stands by the compromise that has been negotiated. Otherwise I fear the lawsuit will go forward and the mosque and it’s attorneys will press for every cent they can get which will end up costing the tax payers of Norwalk millions.

  7. TLaw

    Scare tactics …… “the mosque and it’s attorneys will press for every cent they can get which will end up costing the tax payers of Norwalk millions.”

  8. One and Done

    Age of Khan, perhaps one day when all the [current residents] leave the neighborhood due to blight and lowered property values there will be several 1000s of attendees. That would fit your goals nicely, I bet.

    This comment ws edited to remove offensive language.

  9. Agai Khan

    @TLaw its simply laying out what’s going to happen. With a rejection the mosque’s case will be even stronger because they will be able to show that they attempted to downsize and it was rejected.

    Why do lay people in Norwalk think they have a case when the national experts are all saying to settle?

  10. Suzanne

    Aga Khan, I take it that means you are a lawyer with full knowledge of the arguments, thus far sealed, of the case? As to “lay people” believing they have a case: they do not want a breach in their community that is so in appropriate in terms of size and safety. That doesn’t take a legal assertion or legal directive: what has been outlined so far is a huge bulky building on an undersized lot with not enough parking for special holidays clearly impacting on an already dangerous intersection. Legal or not, from one lay person to another, THAT is the issue.

  11. LWitherspoon

    @Aga Khan
    Would Al Madany consider another, slightly more expensive site in Norwalk if the City paid part of the added expense?
    It seems to me that a large part of this conflict is related to economics. Most likely Al Madany purchased the Fillow St. property because they felt it was one of the cheapest suitable options. What was the next best option from a cost perspective? I would not object to a limited amount of city funds being spent to satisfy West Norwalk by subsidizing Al Madany’s purchase of a slightly more expensive parcel in a less residential area.
    Does anybody know if the City’s insurance carrier pays legal fees in the event that the City decides to continue the court battle and wins?
    @One and Done
    Derisive comments about ‘infidels’ add little to the discussion and may even give Al Madany grounds for claiming religious discrimination.

    Editor’s note: The offensive word was up for a short time before we edited it out.

  12. EastNorwalkChick

    This is not about religious discrimination that they claim is happening, this is not a compromise, they, the mosque representatives, are getting exactly what they wanted plus some extra cash from the City.
    They knew that this would be a hard sell in this neighborhood, any residential neighborhood in Norwalk in fact would have been. I believe that they knew all a long that Federal law would be on their side, since the burden of proof was so weak, and used it to their advantage like so many other times in so many other towns and Cities before. We are not the first, nor we will be the last. They also banked on the City rolling over with just a the threat of a long and drawn out lawsuit, that in the end they would win anyway.
    This is a done deal, Sept. 4th will be just a dog and pony show that will only create more animosity towards them.
    You would think that with all this ill-will around the building this mosque in this neighborhood that the representatives of the Al Madany Islamic Center would reconsider and try to find another location in Norwalk that is more suited to the size of the building that they want. But I highly doubt that they will even consider it. They are getting exactly what they wanted, albeit slightly smaller by 4 ft.
    They claim that they just want to be accepted, that they want to be good neighbors, well if you ask me, this is the wrong way of going about it….

  13. TLaw

    Aga – I’m hardly a “lay person of Norwalk” (oh, endearing to all) and I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on this issue, but I don’t post hollow, belittling rubbish comments in regards to the Mosque either. People can feel how they want – opposed or supportive – they have that right without a doubt here in the great United States of America. So if Mrs Hargrove is opposed to your mosque that’s her right. And don’t forget that long after it’s built it’ll be her right.

    Amen EastNorwalkChick! Well said.

  14. Agai Khan

    @suzanne I am not a lawyer. I currently work as a paralegal. I do not have access to the legal documents except the ones that are publicly available. 1) you probably don’t have what’s called “standing” unless you are an abutting neighbor 2) the type of thing that you are complaining about ie “huge bulky building” may be bothersome to you but per the zoning regulations and RULIPA is completely legal. What’s going to be your argument? I don’t like it or that it will supposedly affect your property values is not good enough.

    The good people of Norwalk need to realize that the mosque removed the matter from the political branch of gov’t and took it to the judiciary. If you don’t like the end result of the legal process then the political players should have taken better care to find a compromise with the mosque before treating the mosque differently than other religious or secular applicants.

  15. Tim D

    LWitherspoon – Why would they consider another spot? what’s the reason? They own the property, they are clearly building the mosque. This is a DONE DEAL, Write it down. As another commentator pointed out Sept 4th is a dog and pony show (to appease the affected neighbors and hopefully save a few votes down the line). And those that post comments under fictitious names only serve to stir the pot. It does not help in any way.

  16. Dennis DiManis

    It’s all playing out the way they knew it would, because this same ugly scenario has already run its course in other unfortunate communities where these blackguards managed to pervert the U.S. justice system. The happenstance of a large well-funded group of belligerent bullies wrecking a neighborhood wasn’t considered when the law was enacted. “Good neighbors”? what a pitiful joke that is. They are hostile invaders, and we should be able to stop them.

  17. One and Done

    Sorry to offend with a word commonly cited in the Koran. The point made is that the facility as proposed, admittedly by the proponents, is significantly a lot larger than what the current parishioners need. Sorry in advance if the word parishioners is offensive.

  18. Suzanne

    Aga Khan, This is tiresome. You use words like “standing” without any knowledge of where I live. It is important for you to be right. Fine. But I will never agree with you and you will never under”stand” my position. I will conclude this ego trade with this: Just because it is legal, does not make it right.

  19. David

    “Just because it is legal, does not make it right.”
    Just because YOU say it’s not right, does not make it NOT right.
    Laws and regulations are in place for a reason, and the reason is because in years past people would use the same arguments you are making to discriminate against various groups – “it doesn’t fit into the the community”, “it’s too big”, “it won’t look good from the road”, “there are other places they can go”. All subjective opinions. I’m not saying you are biased like those people in years past, but you must appreciate WHY laws are in place to make things “right”.
    They own the land, they meet the zoning requirements, they have a federal law on their side. I’m not saying, for one minute, that that should make you happy, or accepting. For what it’s worth, I empathize with you. You are passionate about this, for all I know, you live in the house next door. Nobody wants new construction next door, it brings uncertainty. But in light of all of the factual evidence before us, I’m just not sure what you’re expecting us to do (other than go against the opinion of national experts in this field, pay millions to fight this in court, and millions more when we lose).

  20. One and Done

    David. Stop it. Zoning boards do not have to approve something just because it fits the regulations. That is why you have a zoning board. Join the mosque already since that’s what you want. But others are going to try and protect this city, regardless that you despise it so much.

  21. Suzanne

    David, Yay! Good for you! I guess that means YOU are RIGHT! Happy?

  22. David

    One and done: I’m the one trying to save the city from paying out millions in lawsuits, and I’M the one who despises the city? Hilarious. That’s a classic.

  23. One and Done

    David, Do you understand what an $18 billion grand list means? Do you realize what this settlement means for that valuation? Bruce Kimmel and you could care less obviously. Some of us still care.

  24. David

    One and Done: you’ll have to explain further. I have no idea what you mean there. Please, reply with specifics, numbers and estimates. While you’re at it, please explain how challenging this in court to the tune of millions of dollars will result in a positive result for Norwalk, especially in light of RLUIPA and the fact that the new building meets zoning requirement. Again, please use specifics. Thank you.

  25. One and Done

    @David, Norwalk’s Grand List estimated fair market value of all real property is roughly 18.4 billion dollars. That will erode significantly if we capitulate to the Mosque. 1% of that is $184 million dollars. Just 1%.
    When people are making decisions to buy houses, whether or not a local government will protect those investments is part of the decision making process to buy here or elsewhere. Taking a settlement over a frivolous lawsuit will send a clear message to would be homebuyers to look elsewhere. This will have a precipitous effect on the value of all Norwalk properties. Please try to see the bigger picture here. This isn’t just about destroying one neighborhood, even though that should be the immediate focus.

  26. UN Envoy

    One and Done, you argument about property values is ridiculous, and you are now sounding desperate as your arguments slowly fade away revealing your true motivation here. The same with all the arguments the RTC has put forward, spreading hatred and lies which will come back to haunt them for a long time.
    The largest religious institution in Norwalk and one of the largest in the state is St. Matthews, a mega-church with 2,400 families from all over Fairfield County, not just Norwalk and has over 300 parking spaces, catering hall, and classrooms, and is just across the park in the same AAA residence zone as the mosque site. The mosque has 100 families mostly from Norwalk and is a fraction of the size of St. Matthews. The size of he site is irrelevant as our code allows this kind of density, and more than half of St. Matthews property of 6 acres is wetlands and woods against the golf course, where buffering isn’t even needed, concentrating all the development that dwarfs the mosque in size and density, all in one corner of the property.
    It is the same thing for the huge Temple Shalom, another regional facility with hundreds of families not all from the neighborhood or even from Norwalk, and the United Congregational as well, all within a half mile of the mosque site in residential zones West Norwalk. There is a large restaurant in Oak Hills Park, and now a proposed driving range and golf learning center that will draw hundreds of cars every day, just around the corner of the mosque, yet no one form the area showed up to complain about those last projects in a hearing just two months ago. It is clear there is discrimination going on here.
    None of these large public facilities, which are allowed by code in this AAA zone just like the mosque is, have ever affected the surrounding property values. There is no reason and no shred of evidence the mosque would either. If you don’t want to live near it because you hate Muslims, then move. When Temple Shalom moved in decades ago, I am sure there were bigoted folks in West Norwalk who hated Jews too, and didn’t want them there. A hundred and eighty years ago, no one in America wanted Catholics either, and Irish and Italian immigrants were spit upon and treated poorly by small-minded people who thought America was a Protestant country only.
    Norwalk got its first Catholic church in the 1840’s, almost 200 years after the city’s founding in the 1640’s, and now look how many there are, including the mega-church St Mathews, one of the largest in the state, just across the park from the mosque site, and in a AAA Residence zone. How dare anyone say that a mosque doesn’t belong in a residential neighborhood, but huge churches and temples that are much larger are OK. They need to listen to themselves and questions their true feelings about this when all the evidence indicates that they are no different than any other religious institution, which this AAA zone allows, and which our code also allows at this size and density on this site. That is why a court case would not be won.
    The RTC has done a bang-up job of stirring up the mob of small-minded bigots with lies and hatred just to score political points against Mayor Rilling, to distract from the fact that the zoning code allowed the project even at its original size, and that the top-notch legal team hired by Mayor Moccia has strongly supported the settlement that was negotiated by Republicans on the Zoning Commission, because they all knew the city would lose the federal case and it would cost taxpayers between $4 and 10 million of taxpayer funds. Whether we win or lose.
    This should not be about politics at all, and the RTC strategy will come back and haunt them for a long time, when people realize what damage they have done to the good people of Norwalk and to our well-known reputation for tolerance and diversity. There will be plenty of hatred on display next Thursday, thanks mostly to the RTC’s coordinated and relentless efforts over the last 2 months to drum up the mob in opposition to the settlement. Shame on them, and let’s hope Norwalk’s good side is also on display next Thursday for the national press that will surely be there.

  27. One and Done

    @UN Envy. Desperation is a word that will best describe you and your fellow mosque goers to fit into local society should you pursue this path of conquest. Why you would want to make yourselves pariahs at the same time you destroy a neighborhood is very, very puzzling. You can lie all you want about St Matthews. The only one you are fooling is yourself if you think you will ever be accepted if you pursue this transgression. Love thy neighbor vs. Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”

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