Mosque roots traced to zoning laws designed to favor property owners

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To the Editor:

The mosque debate has been pretty heated, with all kinds of accusations thrown around about which politicians are to blame, which ones “sold out the city,” etc.  Republicans and Democrats each claim that the fault lies with the other party. But the reality is that the issue was decided before the debate began and long before the election of the current council and mayor.

The city’s zoning regulations and its whole approach for decades to zoning regulation and property protection decided the outcome.  The mosque application had to be approved because it complied with the zoning regulations. And if the neighborhood wanted to be protected from a huge non-residential building (or if the city wanted to be protected against big box stores), then the zoning regulations, and the whole approach to zoning and “property rights” for the last decades, would have had to be different.

But instead of truly protecting property rights, Norwalk has opted to protect the rights of individual property owners to do pretty much anything they want regardless of the impact on surrounding property owners or neighborhoods. That’s why you see Norwalk as the big box repository that it has become and that’s why the city, to this day, has no effective anti-blight ordinance.

A property owner can basically do whatever he or she wants with his or her property with no regard for the property rights of neighbors and regardless of the impact on the value of surrounding properties.  The mosque is just another inevitable result of this approach. Other towns and communities would not allow what Norwalk allows – their approach to zoning and property protection is different and more effective. Norwalk has taken an anything goes approach and lives with the consequences.

It has been fascinating to see that many of the same Norwalk politicians who have been most vocal in their opposition to the mosque are the same ones that have been supporting weak zoning regulation, a weak and ineffective blight ordinance, and weak zoning enforcement by an ineffective zoning department for decades. All of a sudden they are “shocked, shocked” that someone is building a big mosque in a residential neighborhood and they make a lot of noise about protecting citizens or they vote against the settlement. But their actions for years in their official roles have helped make this outcome inevitable.

They shouldn’t be surprised at all because this result is what they have worked so hard to achieve by protecting the “sacred right” of individual property owners to do whatever they want.  And nothing will change until the city decides to make protecting property owners and neighborhoods a priority for a change instead of allowing individual property owners to do whatever they want.  Otherwise, the campaign slogans of these politicians – just like the the zoning philosophy of the city – might as well continue to be “a mosque, a big box store, and a blighted structure on every block.” And planning and zoning for the city of Norwalk will continue to be limited to running around pursuing selective enforcement against farm stand signs.

It’s time to elect political leaders who will support true zoning protections for property owners — who will protect our investment in our properties.  But let’s not put up with the hollow outrage of those Norwalk politicians whose action or inaction for decades made the mosque outcome inevitable through their support of an unfettered right of individual property owners to do anything they want regardless of the consequences.

John Hamlin



2 responses to “Mosque roots traced to zoning laws designed to favor property owners”

  1. Aga Khan

    Marci. Hamilton wasted a ton of Norwalk’s money. She knew that RLUIPA had been held constitutional by the 2nd Circuit and there was no way that a Federal district court judge was going to over rule that. In her zeal to overturn the law (completely unsuccessful so far) she sold Moccia and Maslan snake oil. Norwalk should seek the return of monies paid to her based on her […] advice. As for the land use regs it completely complies.

    this comment was edited to remove a potentially libelous adjective.

  2. It’s just laws.

    John Hamlin is right. The city is simply reaping what it has been sowing all these years, if we can be biblical here. Actually the same golden rule appears in the Koran also, under different wording but the same concept. The city dismantled its regulations under Republican rule for decades, and now we have a mosque application that follows those loose rules exactly. West Norwalk should be blaming P and Z staff and the decades of city rule under Republicans Esposito and Moccia when our zoning code was gutted to favor “property rights”. How ironic is it also that the federal RLUIPA law was a result of right wing frustration with local zoning codes that prevented huge Christian megachurches from going into residential neighborhoods across the country back in the 1990’s. Anti-regulation and property rights-supporting conservatives loved RLUIPA as an anti-regulation solution to local codes. Now the property rights supporters in Norwalk are being hoisted on their own petard.
    As Mr. Hamlin indicates, under decades of Republican rule, and with the help of current city staff, Norwalk gutted its regulations because of the philosophy of property rights, where regulation is bad and property owners rights to build whatever they want at any size takes precedence. This included eliminating FAR (floor area ratio) limits in residential zones , which is the traditional method municipalities use (and which Norwalk once had) to limit size and bulk of buildings. Norwalk is unique in not having any FAR limits in residential zones, which is how Rowayton got transformed from a New England fishing village into an overbuilt collection of huge trophy houses crowding out the light, air, and water views of entire historic neighborhoods.
    How ironic that Councilman Dave McCarthy lives in one of these overbuilt multi-million dollar behemoths in Rowayton that dwarfs it’s neighbors, allowed under the same relaxed zoning code that encouraged a mosque to buy a property in West Norwalk that he is foaming at the mouth about, which followed our zoning code exactly for size, bulk, and parking. Now McCarthy and other opponents are so naive as to think you can put that genie back into the bottle, simply by getting a loud mob out at a public meeting, as if a mob can somehow change our existing laws and codes including RLUIPA. It just doesn’t work that way, or we would no longer be a civilized nation based on the rule of law, but an anarchy based on fear and emotion.

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