Letter: Mayor’s making mistake with mosque settlement

To the editor:

Recent letters by Isabelle Hargrove and Bud Taylor have called attention back to the issue of the potential settlement of the case against the city brought by the Al-Madany Mosque. I felt strongly enough that I reached out to our mayor and let him know something that I think he may have missed in all this.

My message to the mayor was simple and clear. It is wrong in every way to stick a huge mosque on a busy intersection in the residential neighborhood of West Norwalk. Every person who lives in West Norwalk knows this, and every resident of the city should fear a mayor who pretends not to.

We all recognize that there are many, many areas in the city that would be better locations for a hall of worship. We also know that neither residents, nor the city can force the mosque to relocate their plans. They own the lot, they can apply, but they should respect the reasonable response they have received. That they have not respected our city or its processes is obvious by the fact that the Mosque Group does not dispute the facts of the zoning case, they allege racial discrimination.

My main point to the mayor was that this is clear as day, and that any settlement has to be a back room deal. I still feel that way. The Zoning Commission refused the application based on the traffic impact, the parking and the sheer bulk of the development. I had hoped the mayor would respect that, given that he said he was running because he had the best interests of Norwalk and its citizens in mind.

Instead, the mayor proved to me that he is a politician, through and through. He blamed his predecessor, Mayor Moccia, even though I know Mayor Moccia played no part in the Zoning Commission’s hearing process. The mayor claimed he was “cleaning up” an issue he inherited. At least the mayor’s next statement was honest; he admitted that he knew it was a politician’s answer.

If our mayor has convinced himself that he is doing something that is in the best interests of Norwalk by sacrificing the West Norwalk and Kendall Neighborhoods, then I question his honesty and his resolve.
I know that for many months, Mayor Rilling would not even respond to my neighbors, his constituents, when they emailed him. Now, as this rush to settlement has progressed he obviously feels he must at least respond. So, if you feel strongly, now is the time to let the mayor know what a mistake he is making. Our neighborhood is worth it, West Norwalk and Kendall are worth more than an expedient political solution surrounded by a pack of excuses.

Richard Hollyday



15 responses to “Letter: Mayor’s making mistake with mosque settlement”

  1. YankeeC

    Mr. Hollyday, if only this situation was as simple as you are making it out to be …

  2. EveT

    Anything the mayor says publicly can (and probably will) be held against Norwalk in the settlement talks and, if settlement doesn’t happen, in the ensuing court battle.

  3. One and Done.

    The situation is really simple. Spinal fortitude was required to not be walked over by the Mosque. Moccia, for all his faults, had it and Harry does not.
    A blind person could tell you this site was not suitable for this size of a structure and that the mosque had no basis whatsoever. There should have never been any move to make a settlement. Any good attorney will tell you that it is a myth that settlements are always the answer. Not when a case is this clear cut and dried.
    The mayor screwed up and the city will have to pay for it big time. This is all on Harry.

  4. piberman

    Superb letter. Long past time for the Mayor to demonstrate leadership on this important issue and acknowledge that he understands the concerns of his citizens.

  5. Suzanne

    I would hope that the mayor would know better than to make any public statements re: the mosque that would jeopardize settlement talks.
    That being said, this mosque group has been completely incorrect regarding the reasons why their mosque plans are inappropriate to the neighborhood for reasons elucidated above.
    The new rendering showing a downsized facility still does not address the dangerous intersection nor the traffic the mosque would cause during holy days. Already, the temple which has more than adequate parking for weekly services has overflow parking in the street during high holy days that make passing an exercise in dodging oncoming automobiles.
    While I am sure the mosque group has been shown many alternative sites that are more appropriate, they have, instead, played the discrimination card to set some sort of precedent legally for not only Norwalk but other neighborhoods where this issue arises in the United States.
    Had they chosen a place where zoning requirements could have been met, that even the watered-down Norwalk regulations show this one not to be the place, they would have been welcomed and be building their mosque now instead of in court.
    Their motives are not for their own community, then, but to basically stick it to a vulnerable town and communities so they can make some kind of what? Political point?
    To cave into this erroneous claim of discrimination is just a waiting it out for the deep legal pockets to end. I am betting Norwalk cries “Uncle” first.

  6. John Hamlin

    It looks like the case will settle and the building will go up, the real question is whether the City will refine its zoning laws or whether anyone involved politically will suffer any consequences. I am betting neither will happen.

  7. isabelle hargrove

    @johnhamlin. This is the type of defeatist attitude that indeed allows government to act irresponsibly with no consequence for their actions. I would think it is far from the attitude of the Al-Madany group which continues to fight and pressure our city…

    Mr. Hollyday is right; people need to continue to demonstrate their strong opposition to a settlement.

    @suzanne. Obviously Mayor Rilling did not know better. He openly blamed his predecessor for the lawsuit, in writing no less! I guess that was his exception to the “I can’t comment on current litigation” rule he has been hiding behind since becoming mayor. Zoning made the ruling, completely independently of the Mayor’s office. Moccia had nothing to do with it. Now, on the other hand, with settlement negotiations in progress, the mayor’s office has everything to do with what the city decides to do.

    The city, its citizens and the zoning commission did NOTHING wrong. Why should our tax dollars be spent on giving a group our hard earned money for no valid reason? We can’t help having to spend money defending ourselves, but it does not mean we should willingly hand out cold cash! Why should a modestly modified plan be forced down the zoning commission’s throat? It would still carry the same traffic, parking and over development issues as the original plan. These unfounded lawsuits happen over and over because special interests know cities or corporations just settle and people are too busy or disengaged to fight back.

    West Norwalk is worth fighting for and we need to show our city officials that we do care and deserve to be represented and defended. If we just lower our heads and accept the perceived inevitable, then we indeed don’t deserve to be treated any better; we are just cattle on the way to the slaughter house!

  8. Suzanne

    I was referring to mayoral statements in the present tense during current negotiations. There are those that make his lack of statements an issue as to his effectiveness.
    This issue was inherited from the previous administration BTW just as a matter of fact.
    Mr. Hamlin is right in pointing out the deficiencies of current zoning regulations that could have, perhaps, avoided all of this nonsense in the first place.
    As it is, the mosque has the upper hand. Whether that is fair to the Kendall and West Norwalk communities is beside the point. The real issue is revision of regs that do not hold all of Norwalk in good stead.

  9. isabelle hargrove

    @suzanne… Whether that is fair to the Kendall and West Norwalk communities might be beside the point to our Mayor and you, Suzanne, who does not deem it necessary or convenient to reveal your identify and where you live; but it is VERY much to my point as a nearly 20-year resident of West Norwalk…

  10. Suzanne

    Ms. Hargrove, I LIVE in West Norwalk. But, I am also well aware of how zoning does and does not work here. Witness the development on Old Rock Lane that had absolutely NO support against it from the West Norwalk Association, a group that is ostensibly in existence to protect the neighborhood among other things, because existing Zoning Laws had no leg to stand on especially when considering environmental impacts.
    That the mosque exists as a plan at all? Well, they get to do that based on the existing regulations. I am totally against it for the safety and welfare of our neighborhood.
    What does that objection do? Nothing. Just nothing. Al-Madany has used a vulnerable system and exploited it. They have the deep pockets to fight a legal battle that I think will far outstrip Norwalk resources. This is just reality.
    Believe me, I feel bad for both of us but wishing this were not true just doesn’t do anything constructive for our community.
    It would be better, retrospectively, to examine and change regulations that allow these very wrong and dangerous developments to go on in the first place.
    No, it is not Zoning’s fault and it is not Norwalk’s fault but it WOULD be if this experience did not change what is allowing this development.
    And, as I seemingly must repeat a zillion times, it is not a necessary Internet protocol to name one’s full name in order to have and express a legitimate opinion. I take privacy and self protection very seriously and do not always feel either would not be violated given the rancor, at times, on these threads. It is my right, just like it is yours to print your full name. I respect that decision.

  11. Mr KnowItAll

    As an interested, and until now, silent observer, Mr KnowItAll thinks Suzanne has make an interesting comment when she says, “they have deep pockets.” So it seems. More money than the city, perhaps. How is that possible? Here is a suggestion that might put the issue of a mosque in West Norwalk into a larger context. Follow the money.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Mr KnowItAll

      We have reported previously and received not-for-attribution acknowledgement from Al Madany and city sources that Al Madany’s lawyers are working on the basis that, if the mosque loses, there is no charge by its lawyers, but, if the mosque prevails, the city must pay both its own and Al Madany’s legal bills. This would cost all Norwalk taxpayers hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. The original outside attorney for Norwalk proposed a potential settlement, which was drawn up with the involvement of current Zoning Commission Vice Chairwoman Emily Wilson, and approved by the full commission on a 6-1 vote. At that point, Norwalk would have had to pay $100,000 of Al Madany’s expenses. Then-Mayor Richard Moccia intervened, the attorney was fired and a new one was brought in to continue the fight. Last winter, the judge told the two sides to start settlement talks. If the case goes to trial and Al Madany wins, the taxpayers will pay. If the city wins, Norwalk (that is, the taxpayers) will only pay its own expenses. This link explains much of the history of this entire affair.

  12. Oldtimer

    Both the AlMadamy group and the City Zoning Commission have law on their side and the religious discrimination claim is probably not a real issue. Now, what needs to happen is the mosque plans need to be modified to comply with legitimate zoning concerns as much as reasonably possible, the City needs to issue a permit, and the cost of the ill-advised lawsuit needs to be absorbed by their pro-bono counsel on one side, and the City on the other. Both sides can then claim victory and get back to other business.

  13. Suzanne

    Oldtimer, I cannot agree with your conclusion through I believe what you describe is probably an accurate one. There has been nothing to indicate that zoning has been complied with by Al-Madany in terms of the size and attendance to the mosque. (And this is where they have claimed religious discrimination on several counts.) The dangerous intersection still exists and it has been mentioned in the past that enough parking will not be available on special celebration days. Letting any of these factors slide is a path toward future liability by the City of Norwalk if they approve this application.

  14. Suzanne

    Um, Isabelle Hargrove, I invite you to read the link above from Mark Chapman explaining just how much the previous administration was involved in the dealings with Al-Madany. No question that Mayor Moccia was VERY involved.

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