Mosque answers may have been missed amidst the anger

NORWALK, Conn. – The minaret, the “special treatment” given some neighbors of the proposed mosque and the possibility of blasting were some of the concerns addressed at the Zoning Commission’s public hearing on the proposed Al Madany Islamic Center lawsuit settlement last week.

Amidst the many angry comments expressed by West Norwalk residents were questions, questions that were answered at the end of the hearing:

Why build a minaret if it’s not going to be used?

“The minaret is a traditional part of a mosque. Whether or not it’s going to be used for a call to prayer, it’s still a traditional part of their observance and should be respected, in my view,” Attorney Marci Hamilton said. “They have agreed as part of the settlement agreement not to use it for call to prayer. They’re going to sign, if it’s approved, they’re willing to sign a settlement agreement that says they never use it for call to prayer. So that’s a pretty remarkable concession on the part of this group and I think that it’s unfair, actually.”

Why is the Stonegate Condominium Association getting money for a gate when all the other neighbors are getting nothing?

“The Stonegate board had their chance to be involved in this,” one man said. “The other members of Stonegate did not. The town seems to have forgotten Fillow Ridge, the West Norwalk Association and other neighbors.”

“They requested the right to intervene in the lawsuit as a party and the court granted that right so they have then acted as a party to the case,” Attorney Joseph Williams said. “They were given notice and the right to participate through their legal counsel and their representatives in the settlement discussions, and specifically the mediation that was conducted with the magistrate judge in Hartford.”

Did anyone consider finding another location for the mosque?

“No, I don’t know of any analysis that’s been done on alternative sites,” Williams said. “We haven’t received any information about them, we don’t have the proposal before us.” If a site is suggested, of course it could be talked about but, “It’s not something where we can just hit the pause button on the litigation or on the settlement discussion because of the idea of putting it somewhere else,” he said.

What about traffic congestion?

“This does not generate traffic during the weekday morning or the weekday afternoon, the school peak hours,” Joe Balskus of Tighe and Bond said. “This is generating traffic during one hour, hour and a half, on a Friday at midday. So it’s not a normal, retail development, traffic peak hour generator.”

What traffic calming measures are in store?

“We will be providing all-way stop control and clearing the sightline at the Steppingstone intersection to north of the site,” Balkus said. There will also be a raised intersection at the mosque’s driveway, he said. “That will calm speeds on Fillow not just during the peak hour on Friday, but 24 hours a day,” he said.

Will there be blasting?

No, Zoning Commission Chairman Joe Santo said. Because the property slopes downward in the back there will be no blasting. “If anything they’ll do chipping,” he said.

Audience members yelled at Santo that they knew what was underneath the soil because they live there. It’s ledge, they said, indicating scorn.

“There won’t be any dynamite blasting done,” he said. “If there is it is under the purview of the Fire Department, it has nothing to do with zoning.”

Isabelle Hargrove, a vocal opponent of the proposed mosque settlement, said during the hearing that the current plan does not meet the zoning code. She mentioned “Clause F,” which Zoning Commissioner Nora King asked Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene about.

Hargrove called out from the audience that she was referring to section 118-1450c.f. Greene said that referred to signs. She referred to a specific passage, “How do you feel this ‘fits harmoniously’ in this neighborhood ‘the size and design’?” she said.

“There are no signs planned for the mosque,” he said.

There were other questions.

“Have you heard anything we said? It doesn’t sound like it,” one man said.

“If this was your back yard would you like it?” a woman asked.

Commissioner Adam Blank took that up.

“We have some rules up here,” Blank said. “Which is that if an applicant is going to have a direct impact on us as commissioners we must recuse ourselves from the outcome of that case. We cannot vote on that simply for the exact reason that you are saying. Whether it benefits our property, if the proposal is my street is going to be paved with gold I would love to vote on that. I’m voting yes, but I’ve got to recuse myself on that. I am not going to vote on that because I can’t be fair and unbiased.”

“So basically all of you are not from the city of Norwalk so you have no idea,” came a reply from the audience.

“OK, we’re done,” Santo said. “We’re done.”


18 responses to “Mosque answers may have been missed amidst the anger”

  1. anon

    The math says there are plans for this to be a REGIONAL DESTINATION.
    Or maybe,
    The math says the mosque expects its membership to double or almost triple in size. HOW?
    Or maybe something else, but why does it seem like the answer is a secret?
    Norwalk’s mosque will be almost 3 times the size of Stamford’s mosque and 2 times the size of Greenwich’s synagogue.
    Why did MARIO COPPOLA, ESQ. ask questions about size and anticipated demand in Greenwich but not in Norwalk?
    Mayor Rilling’s choice for Norwalk Corporate Counsel MARIO COPPOLA, ESQ. asked this question regarding the Greenwich synagogue, “(MARIO)COPPOLA urged the (Greenwich) commission to approve the project only if a number of conditions were levied against it: a minimum 40 percent reduction in size, a new driveway configuration, limited use of a social hall and WRITTEN REPORTS ON ANTICIPATED DEMAND…”http://www.greenwichtime.com/local/article/Synagogue-proposal-draws-ire-5289369.php

  2. Piberman

    The great trajedy here is the absence of any evidence that City leaders offered their assistance to the Mosque community in finding another location that would not arose the antipathy of a local neighborhood and would fully suit the needs of the Congregation and their future needs.
    Politicizing the zoning challenge illustrates the consequences of “absent leadership”. In the “old days” this imbroglio would have been resolved informally with good results all around. Now in the absence of City leadership its resolution by the lawyers and courts. Norwalk’s best days seemingly are behind us.

  3. Tobias

    This piece of land has been fought over for years. The neighbors didn’t want a Greek Church going into that space 30 years ago.

    Unfortunately, the amount of hate that was spoken against the installation of a place of worship shows how ignorant people are. Do we judge Christians by the Westboro Baptist Church? Ever see the “love” thrown by Christian protesters outside an Abortion clinic? I have met some very peaceful Islamic followers who are not training up a militia against the United States like the media would have you believe, but rather want to bring peace and community… just like a Church would or a synagogue would.

    Ever read the Constitution? Freedom of religion… for all. Freedom of speech… for all. Not just for those who you agree with. I feel that a place of worship and community would do this town a lot of good… maybe even bring better family values back.

  4. Suzanne

    Tobias, while I don’t disagree with the idea of a place of worship, frankly especially for Muslims, because there is such a great misunderstanding about the practice of faith and, sometimes, people lump them in with extremist groups or factions currently raging in the Middle East, I have to disagree with the location of a Mosque in this particular site.
    It has been agreed by many, including those on the Zoning Commission, that meeting the Zoning regulations in a residential zone may not necessarily be good for the residential area.
    For the size of this facility, the incursion of its driveway into a dangerous intersection and its lack of land to accommodate all of its needs in a way that does not disturb the neighborhood, I believe the mosque needs to be located elsewhere.
    Please note: I am referencing the SIZE of the mosque, its LOCATION and the potential DANGER of TRAFFIC at this scary intersection. This has nothing to do with the free practice of religion.
    There are three other congregations in the area that all did the right thing when they went to build their houses of worship: they bought enough land. Al-Madany did not then claimed discrimination based on preventing religious practice knowing they could use RLUIPA to get them out of the hot water THEY created.
    Again, nothing about religion or free religious practice, which is welcomed, but about land use and judicious choices. I do not believe West Norwalk should have to pay for their mistakes, legal or not. It is not right.

  5. Jeff

    If the mosques was right sized for the neighborhood very few would have issue with it so why haven’t elected officials engaged in presenting other alternatives or perhaps help this group find a larger parcel for their home of worship rather than waist $$ on legal fees. . .. Where are our leaders? Why haven’t they discussed other options? Why was the court not petitioned to break this “auspice of confidentially” officials are artificially hiding behind prior to proposing a settlement? The silence, executive sessions and closed door negotiating have left residents frustrated and without voice leading to the unfortunate anger this headline references. Is this how our system of elected government was designed to work?

  6. Confused in CT

    I agree with Piberman. I really thought this could have been handled informally between the city leaders and the congregation. We live in a small enough city that it is possible. As a resident, I don’t have access to what viable properties belong to the city, but they do. Also, if this house is indeed considered historic, the parties interested in maintaining the spot could have offered to purchase the property as a historical society. Just wondering out loud here.

    All in all, I think after it is built, and it does turn out that traffic issues do not ensue, we’ll all get used to the spot fairly quickly. Change happens, but sometimes it’s benign. That said, we do really need to revisit the zoning laws here.

  7. longtimedem

    I disagree that in “the old days” a land use controversy of this sort “would have been resolved informally with good results all around.” There is no point in waxing nostalgic for a bygone age in which controversies of this sort would have been worked out off-the-record by a few sages, without the nastiness and mess of public hearings, lawsuits, etc., because such an age never existed.
    It is true that in the past the vast majority of land-use decisions were handled in the regular administrative process, without significant controversy. But that is still true today — only a small number of zoning applications become controversial.
    Nevertheless, it is also true that Norwalk’s history in the last 50 years — and likely many decades before that — has been punctuated by periodic high-profile development controversies that have mobilized neighborhoods, distilled vitriol and spawned lawsuits. Given Norwalk’s transformation over the decades both in terms of demographics, economic base and land-use patterns, these controversies have often involved neighbors resisting the construction of higher-density uses allowed by the then-current zoning. Whether you are talking about fights over condo construction in the 1980’s, the NAACP lawsuit challenging the concentration of public housing in South Norwalk, or the federal lawsuit to prevent Norwalk Community College from relocating to Cranbury Park, these were messy, contentious affairs. Sometimes they were ultimately resolved by negotiation, and sometimes not, but to imagine that we once were a city where land-use disputes didn’t get fought out in noisy public hearings and lawsuits is simply to ignore our City’s actual history.
    I also take issue with the statement that “Norwalk’s best days are seemingly behind us.” I am as prone as anyone to succumb to the daydream that the leaders of my youth were giants and that we now live in a world of political decadence, weakness and decay. But when I look around with eyes untinged by nostalgia, I can see that while indeed some things have gotten worse, other things have gotten better, both in our body politic and in the quality of our community’s life.
    We live in a real community with real disputes and a clunky and imperfect system for working things out, rather than in an idealogical fairy-tale in which the moral of the story is always “And that is why absent leadership has brought us to the sorry state we’re in today.” Like any other living entity, our city has its good days and its bad days. Sure, some of our best days are behind us, but some of them are still ahead.

  8. Dennis DiManis

    If Norwalk zoning law required large public facilities of all types to be built downtown rather than in residential areas, we’d have a robust thriving downtown area today instead of a disgusting mess.

  9. David 9018

    This is the answer that I am not that comfortable with.

    “We will be providing all-way stop control and clearing the sightline at the Steppingstone intersection to north of the site,” Balkus said. There will also be a raised intersection at the mosque’s driveway, he said. “That will calm speeds on Fillow not just during the peak hour on Friday, but 24 hours a day,” he said.

    Are we sure that the City Traffic Commission will approve these changes? Fillow is a snow emergency route so for the city to raise the intersection does not seem like it is going to happen.
    And stop signs do not work! They will just cause more accidents. I use this intersection alot and the vehicles traveling in Fillow from the Oak Hills side tend to go pretty fast. Just this past summer there was the accident involving the teenagers that just came from Ponus Ridge Middle School. I feel the traffic studies are not good enough. I do not care about the number of vehicles that travel on Fillow or Steppingstone, I care about HOW they travel these two roads! I live off of Steppingstone and I have a 3 way intersection (with stop signs) in front of my house and vehicles rarely come to a complete stop and some do not even slow down. So they can SAY they are going to put in traffic calming measures but first we do not know if they will be allowed and how effective they will be!

  10. One and Done

    To further David 9018s point….if traffic calming measures are being considered, isn’t that an admission that there are issues with traffic here? Sorry, they can’t have it both ways. Or, then again I guess they can as long as Harry is out to lunch on the subject.

  11. Oyster

    The extra “e” in this article’s title was missed too. 🙂

    1. Mark Chapman


      When we get a few grants, or when more than a small handful of our regular readers decide to donate to keep us in business, I am going to do something about my computer, which often drops or repeats letters (no, really). Very frustrating! Thanks (and to EveT for an earlier copy editing alert!).

  12. Oyster

    Hint taken. Another check is on the way.

    1. Mark Chapman


      Wasn’t a hint for you, but for others! We greatly appreciate your support past and present.

  13. Jeff

    Mark – all the best to NON. I hope you more than survive but thrive. . . new reader (can’t believe I didn’t find you sooner) and am spreading the word. It’ll be only a matter of time before some big fish swallow you as I only hope you keep to your independent reporting/journalism.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Jeff

      Thank you SO MUCH for your kind words. NoN is doing business now as part of (the only part of for now) Chapman Hyperlocal Media Inc., a registered Connecticut non-profit corporation, and we have applied for 501c3 status. As such, no one can swallow us up – we can only dissolve or transfer it to another non-profit. The reason for going non-profit is so we can remain independent without selling out to anyone or anything. But it also means our primary — and nearly sole — source of support is our readers and any philanthropic foundations and corporations that believe in and want to support what we do. Kinda like when PBS runs all those pledge drives…

  14. Jeff

    Ahh got it thx for explaining – will let others know

  15. piberman

    Reportedly the Mosque bought the land in 2008. One wonders if they had an informal discussions with City officials about what size building might be acceptable over the following 4 years before the application was made. Or whether City officials reached out to have a discussion. Its hard to recall the City (Mayor Moccia) ever hiring a national law expert to deal with a zoning issue before. Was this done to encourage the Mosque to relocate at the behest of the neighborhood ? One senses there was a major “lost opportunity” to hold meaningful discussions before the lawyers enetered the picture.

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