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Islamic Center proposal is ‘inappropriate size’ for parcel, neighborhood

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To the Editor:

As a life-long West Norwalk resident for more than 50 years, a past president of the West Norwalk Association, former member of the Planning Commission, and a former Corporation Counsel for the City, I oppose the Al-Madany proposal and the proposed settlement now being considered by the Zoning Commission.

A Mosque, like any other house of worship, is welcome in Norwalk generally and West Norwalk in particular as long as the location and parcel size are appropriate. Neither is true for this settlement proposal. Three buildings, including a large community center, on this one and a half acre parcel, are not appropriate or safe for this corner of Fillow Street. The Zoning Commission rightly denied the application previously and should deny the proposed settlement now because of same the traffic considerations.

The intersection at issue has an extreme curve coming into it from the Kendall neighborhood and the elevation of that curve above the intersection and the lower upswing from North Taylor make it a very dangerous corner even when weather is perfect and traffic is light. Adding what will certainly be hundreds of cars parked on and off the site (the proposal is for less than 150 spaces on the property but we all know there will be many hundreds of users of this community center) creates a traffic nightmare for years to come. Nothing in this alleged compromise will reduce the parking or traffic problems. Any member of any board or commission voting for this settlement is voting for the ruin of this area of Norwalk and future accidents and injuries at this problematic intersection.

Zoning Commissioners and Council Members – please do not disregard all of the residents and homeowners who live in the area and oppose this giant project. Our legal case is winnable and should not be abandoned for such an unfavorable settlement. The Mayor assured us in the last election that he would let the case take its course. That is exactly what we should do. Turn this terrible settlement down and force Al-Madany to make a more reasonable offer or seek a better site.

For the record, I take issue with statements by Councilman Bruce Kimmel, who I respect as community leader, that the city is forced into three losing scenarios. Contrary to Bruce’s pessimistic view that if the City wins the federal case then the only outcome for Al-Madany is to re-apply with a similar proposal which must be approved by Zoning or the courts. On the contrary, if the City wins, as it is likely to do, Al-Madany does not automatically get to build whatever they want. Indeed, if we win the case and are found not to have discriminated against this religious application, Al- Madany will be in a difficult position. Yes, they can reapply, but if the new proposal does not meet the traffic and parking concerns raised by Zoning, Norwalk could of course turn it down again. And in that instance Al- Madany would have little recourse. If they sued again they would very likely lose and owe the City legal fees.   So the suggestion by Councilman Kimmel that the City cannot win, no matter what, is just defeatist and likely to scare residents into an ill-conceived settlement that gets the neighborhood nothing. If the City wins the case as it is likely to do, the loser will be Al-Madany not the neighborhood. Residents should not believe that if Norwalk wins it still loses.

So we should stay the course. When the City wins, as it is very likely to do if we continue with the case, the only remedies for the Al-Madany group would be to re-apply with a greatly reduced proposal or they could find a new site elsewhere. Both of those options are open and available to them now and turning down this settlement will encourage them to pursue those other avenues now, not later. Now.

The other bit of misinformation going around is that Norwalk should cave because the Stonegate Condominiums is now willing to settle, That Stonegate has agreed to settle for a reported $60,000 cash payment is only is indicative of an association, which cannot afford the legal fight, not a group that thinks the settlement is fair or good for the city.   Clearly, the settlement cash comes with strings attached and the Stonegate board had to issue a statement supportive of a settlement, despite the fact they know the majority of their residents, like the rest of the community, oppose this mess of a settlement.

So let’s get back to the merits. The issue has never been the mosque itself. So claims of religious discrimination are particularly weak. This proposal was turned down largely, if not entirely, because of the attached community center which will surely overburden the site and create parking and traffic problems. If Al-Madany had applied for just the mosque I am sure they would have little or no community opposition.

Those who have stated that “federal law gives a preference to religious groups in zoning matters because of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of religious free speech” demonstrate why RLUIPA is unconstitutional as it is being used here and elsewhere in America today. The U.S. Constitution prevents the government from giving any preference to a religion or religions generally under the First Amendment Establishment Clause. That is one of the key arguments our attorneys have advanced in this case and we should let the Court determine that issue on summary judgment motions next spring, or at trial next year or on a subsequent appeal.

If a settlement now is important, a perfectly reasonable solution might be to build the Mosque as proposed and build the community center elsewhere. The community center is not a protected exercise of religion and should not serve as valid grounds for an RLUIPA claim. I remain confident that the community and the Zoning Commission would support such a compromise. Again as an alternative, the City could work with Al-Madany to find another more suitable site in town. There are lots of likely properties which would meet Al-Madany’s needs without overburdening any neighborhood or traffic concerns.

Neighbors I urge you to turn out Thursdays Sept. 4, at 7:30 p.m., at City Hall to oppose this demonstrably destructive settlement proposal.

Peter Nolin

Comments

6 responses to “Islamic Center proposal is ‘inappropriate size’ for parcel, neighborhood”

  1. Just Asking.

    Mr. Nolin is not a RLUIPA expert. Marci Hamilton, who Mayor Moccia hired to defend the city and who is a prominent national expert on RLUIPA including having written a book on it, has strongly recommended the settlement. She even called it “remarkable”. https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/08/national-expert-settlement-between-al-madany-and-norwalk-is-remarkable/
    .
    Mr. Nolin is a local lawyer that takes on all types of cases, including this one where he sued all the city leaders of the Town of Westport to get a full pension for a firefighter convicted of embezzling city funds which he used for porno and fancy meals. http://www.thehour.com/news/westport/ex-westport-firefighter-sues-dept/article_84a3b9cf-3465-5b15-af07-3761c8708aab.html
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    He is also Vice-Chair of the Norwalk Republican Town Committee, and nominated and voted for Zoning Vice-Chair Emily Wilson over former BET Chair Fred Wilms, to be the party-endorsed candidate for the 142nd District (Larry Cafero’s seat.) https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/05/wilson-wins-gop-backing-in-run-for-142nd-district-seat/.
    .
    Mayor Moccia supported Mr Wilms, and he also happened to have hired Marci Hamilton who recommended the settlement Peter Nolin is so adamantly against in the letter copied in Jeff’s post above.
    .
    Wilson lost that primary on August 12th. Ms. Wilson is scheduled to vote on the mosque settlement on Thursday. Is it in any way possible internal Republican rivalries are helping to fuel this ambitious campaign to kill the settlement, that may end up costing city taxpayers between $4 million (if we win) and 10 million (if we lose), and even worse, costing us our AAA bond rating which could cost us even millions more forcing draconian cuts in the school budget, road paving, and parks maintenance? Just asking.

  2. Lisa Thomson

    Mr. Nolin pens a very eloquent case against the mosque. However, I find it ironic that he represents the 2 Nearwater developer trying to build two structures on the narrow trolley line, in the Farm Creek wetlands in Rowayton. The argument he presents for his opposition to the mosque should be the same opposition for building in Farm Creek. But instead he has chosen to represent the developer in favor of the development. How ironic or hypocritical. Perhaps the ambiguity of Norwalk’s Planning and Zoning regulations is the root of the problem. Time to reform P&Z.

  3. One and Done

    @Lisa. You are being more than disingenuous here. How many 100s of cars are going to be coming and going from Nearwater each day? Thank you.

  4. EveT

    Two questions.
    1. Why were residents not up in arms about Dunkin Donuts at the dangerous intersection of New Canaan Ave and Main Ave? That establishment causes traffic nightmares day and night, and any fast food business on that corner would do the same.
    2. If Mr. Nolin is an attorney and he’s urging the city not to settle but instead take the case to court, would he be willing to represent the city pro bono, thus saving massive legal fees?

  5. Oldtimer

    “(the proposal is for less than 150 spaces on the property but we all know there will be many hundreds of users of this community center)” What ? We all do NOT know any numbers of users.
    Where does Peter get his information ? Where does he get the right to invent his own facts and plug them in to his comments, as if they were true ? Does he have some position within the Muslim community that gives him access to “insider” information ? Or, is he a lawyer who sometimes lies to make a point ?

  6. Suzanne

    Oldtimer, Not to speak for Mr. Nolin, but there has been made mention that as part of the agreement with Al-Madany, shuttle service will be provided from the Congregationalist Church which implies that on certain days there will be more than 100 families represented. The shuttle solution does not eliminate a full parking lot at the mosque however. I think this was made clear in the settlement points in NON last week.

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