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Mosque settlement gets a thumbs up from Zoning

Concert Hall
Concerned Norwalk citizens attend a hearing on the proposed legal settlement between the city and the Al Madany Islamic Center on Thursday in Concert Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Amidst waves of anger and resentment from local residents, the Norwalk Zoning Commission voted 4-3  Thursday night to approve the Al Madany Islamic Center mosque suit settlement and clear the way for the settlement to advance to the Common Council.

The vote came at the end of a public hearing that drew hundreds of people to a not-quite-full Concert Hall.

Zoning Chairman Joe Santo and Vice Chairwoman Emily Wilson, who helped hammer out the settlement, split on the vote, with Wilson voting against it. Also voting in favor were Nora King, Adam Blank and Nate Sumpter. Linda Kruk and Michael O’Reilly joined Wilson in voting no.

With the exception of Santo, a Republican, the vote broke along party lines, with three Democrats in favor and three Republicans against.

The settlement now goes to the Common Council for a vote on the financial aspects. The deal calls for $145,000 to be paid by the city and $162,500 by the city’s insurance company to the Al Madany legal team for expenses related to the suit. The city will also pay the Stonegate Condominium Association about $45,000 to install a gate across the parking lot entrance to keep non-residents from parking there.

The Council is expected to take up the item on Tuesday’s agenda (Sept. 9). Mayor Harry Rilling has called for an executive session at 6:30 p.m. Monday to discuss the settlement.

“We listened to all the comments and I think they all had valid points. I think we have a lot to digest and we’ll see where we go from here,” Rilling said.

Residents took turns bashing the idea of a mosque at 127 Fillow St. and claiming the city was being “bullied” into accepting it. Some said the issue had already caused property values to plunge as residents begin to move out.

At issue is Al Madany’s desire to build a 42,442-square-foot mosque and accessory building on 1.559 acres at 127 Fillow St. in West Norwalk. The Zoning Commission denied the application in 2012, citing the size of the project along with parking and traffic concerns. Al Madany then sued in June 2012, claiming that the project was within zoning parameters and that the city was causing an undue burden on the practice of its religion. After the judge in the case and the U.S. Attorney’s Office urged thee parties to find common ground, Al Madany and Norwalk entered settlement talks in January (see atttached settlement documents for changes in project).

Failing to settle and going to trial would be costly, the lawyers have said., reportedly anywhere from $ million if the city were to win and $10 million if it were to lose and be forced to pay Al Madany’s legal team. Thursday night, the ante went up: One lawyer said it cost Norwalk taxpayers $15 million to go to trial and lose.

Nationally recognized attorney Marci Hamilton, an expert on and ardent foe of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), told the crowd, “Your anger should be directed at the United States Congress” for passing the controversial RLUIPA law under which Al Madany filed suit.

“At issue is what is required under federal law. This attorney fee payout is the lowest I have ever seen.”

She said “You are dealing with a combination of land use and future tax burden,” and recommended settling the case.

Planning Commissioner Victor Cavallo made a point of order and said the Zoning Commission has no authority to vote on the issue because there is no application before it.

Former Corporation Council Peter Nolin.
Former Corporation Counsel Peter Nolin addresses the Zoning Commission on Thursday in Concert Hall.

Former Corporation Council Peter Nolin said, “Shame, shame, shame on the lawyers,” calling their words bad advice and saying Norwalk should find the mosque a different location.”

Common Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E), who has been lobbying residents and Council members against settling, spoke beyond his allotted three minutes and ended with a partial standing ovation.

And Councilman David Watts (D-District A) said his opposition to the mosque has nothing to do with discrimination.

“I’m more afraid of some politicians than I am of the people in my neighborhood.”

But West Norwalk Association Treasurer Galen Wells cited the “mob mentality” of the crowd and said it was “irresponsible” of politicians to stoke it.

“Take the lawyers’ advice,” she said.

One resident said the mosque would “ruin the neighborhood” and that screening would hide the building. He said he is selling his house.

Another claimed his neighbor’s house sold for “75 percent less” because of the possibility of the mosque being built. “Our town is being bullied into this.”

Resident Isabelle Hargrove, who has been among the most persistent critics of the proposal, told the Zoning Commission the settlement they helped author does not pass the zoning regulation test. She also complained at being limited to three minutes to make her case.

“We are here one night and you won’t give us the time,” she said.

Rowayton resident Julie Burton said the proposed mosque is too big, and played the good-neighbor card: “It’s wrong of mosque members to force their way into the neighborhood. You sue your neighbors?”

“It’s never been an issue of the mosque,” said resident Carol Andreoli, calling it a “very passionate subject.”

“It’s the size,” she said, citing the “very serious turn, very dangerous” Fillow Street-North Taylor Avenue intersection.

Andreoli said a family member had a bad accident there three years ago. “We are just asking for a tragedy. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen,” she said. She also asked why the residents at Stonegate Condominiums were getting “special” treatment, including an estimated $45,000 payout from the city to build a gate to keep unwanted cars out of their parking lot.

The West Norwalk Association presented results of a survey of its members and said there were 243 against the settlement, 29 in favor.

The Stonegate Condominium Association Board of Directors earlier voted unanimously to accept thee settlement and urged the Zoning Commission and Common Council to follow suit. Stonegate is directly across Fillow Street from the proposed mosque.

Another man, Hussein Qadri, an India native, said he has been in the United States for 35 years.

“I feel like a minority,” he said, and urged people to “be civil. Don’t hurt other people’s feelings. Thisis the first worship place that we are trying to have. I was very hurt when a few people made loud comments.”

Someone said, “You sued us,” and he responded, “Everybody has the right in this country to fight for their rights.”

RTC Chairman Peter Torrano said his group is “fighting for the neighbors. When you enter a neighborhood, you have to figure out what people need to welcome you in.”

Resident Lars Lindstrom is one neighbor the mosque won’t have to figure out. Lindstrom said the city has allowed the neighborhood to change so dramatically “I can’t live in it anymore.” He said he is selling his house and giving up on Norwalk because the city doesn’t fight for its residents.

John Romano, a Norwalk Harbor Management commissioner, said the Zoning Commission is “in a box,” and called it “coercion.” He said the zoners should turn down the settlement and force Al Madany to negotiate.

“I don’t mind paying more taxes” to defend the neighborhood, he said.

Mosque supporters were there as well.

Farhan Memon, the Al Madany spokesman, addressed concerns about the mosque’s reported 100-family membership growing to become a huge regional congregation.

“We are not a congregation that attracts people from outside,” he said. “We don’t expect to build in population.”

“This isn’t going to be a Disneyland for Muslims,” said Azra Asaduddin.

And Shaheera Ali responded to complaints that the mosque is ruining property values.

“Your home values are already down,” she said. “There’s a recession.”

But Bob Reedy told the Zoning Commission, “Listen to the people. Time to go to court.”

“We are pleased that the Zoning Commission voted to approve the settlement that we negotiated over many months with them,” Memon said after the meeting. “We understand that there are many neighbors that we’ll have to mend fences with and we hope to do that over time and ensure that we are good neighbors.”

Many people, including Nolin, said the city should try to arrange for Al Madany to build in another location.

“I think that is something that is food for thought for the future,” Rilling said. “We’ll see what we can do. We’ll see what happens.”

Correction, 11:30 p.m., Galen Wells is treasurer of the West Norwalk Association.

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Comments

51 responses to “Mosque settlement gets a thumbs up from Zoning”

  1. OhNoNorwalk

    We know who is getting voted out out their seats / jobs next.

  2. Seth

    The Dog and pony show is now complete.

  3. Carol

    it’s a sad day for the homeowners of norwalk–

  4. Openyoureyes

    “Your home values are already down,” she said. “There’s a recession.”

    Lol.

    Tonight we got to hear people say “I’m not racist” and then listen to them proceed to say something racist over and over and over again.

  5. SMO

    This was a travesty. The people of the community were so obviously against this but the commission didn’t listen at all. The commission showed that they cannot be trusted to do what’s best for the community. The $15 million number is a bit of a joke. The community will lose much more than that in home values after this is built. If 100 people lose $100k in home value you’re most of the way there. Unfortunately, they are not elected officials. They should resign. The leader of the mosque was saddened by people’s comments but they have never tried to become part of the community as far as I am aware. Some of the supporters were behind me saying they should burn some signs of people against the mosque. Real peaceful. Oh – the snippy comment about home values being “down anyway” is from someone who is obviously financially clueless. She’s a kid – I guess you can’t blame her. Go take a look at Darien, Westport and New Canaan home values. See where they are – they’re doing much better! Why? Because they protect their homeowners in those towns. Not Norwalk – they run and hide. At least the commission can’t be harmed – they don’t live in West Norwalk.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @SMO

      We changed your screen name because it was already in use by another commenter who wished to avoid confusion. We do not allow multiple people with the same screen name, but we did not wnt to eliminate your voice from the discussion. If you want something other than SMO, let us know at [email protected].

  6. EveT

    The “commission didn’t listen at all”? How about, a bunch of hysterical people didn’t listen to the facts of the law at all. The majority of the commission did listen and understand what it would mean if the settlement were rejected.
    Attorney Hamilton is right, the anger belongs with the U.S. Congress for enacting RLUIPA into law.

  7. Pibermanfmc

    Any evidence Commissioners were influenced by the public hearing or was the hearing just for show with a prearranged outcome ? Are Democrats now the Party that supports the Mosque ?

  8. Suzanne

    Zoning Commission public hearings are pro forma meetings where the community can speak until they are black, blue and red in the face but not get their legitimate concerns heard.
    *
    The decision was already made and there was not a single person raising good points, relevant points, necessary points that was going to be heard or change any minds on that Commission, minds already made up.
    *
    The concern about expenses to Norwalk should the settlement be challenged I am sure were foremost in the Commission’s mind – not the concerns of the community.
    *
    The only way Congress is going to change the context of RLUIPA is if communities like Norwalk challenge it. But, we don’t have the guts to say, “No” with alternatives to the Al Madany community that would be more appropriate.
    *
    The fact that our taxpayer dollars are going to pay Al Madany for expenses that they invited when they claimed discrimination of religious practice is simply insulting and totally unconscionable.
    *
    The West Norwalk Association has no voice in this matter as far as I am concerned: they have never seen a development they did not like for their “rural community” they tout on their WEB site. I suggest Galen Wells stick to those Adopt-a-spots and scholarships. They are certainly not advocates for preserving our “local character.”
    *
    Isn’t this what everyone expected? Politics as usual, votes along partisan lines and absolutely no common sense prevailing, just legal sense. It is a shame RULIPA exists but more reprehensible that someone, anyone on the Democratic side of the equation could not or would not hear the community. Who do they work for anyway?
    *
    Again and again: it is terrible that what is legal is not right. This is certainly one of those cases and, I am afraid, West Norwalk will have to live with it – an oversized building on too small a lot with a dangerous exit into an intersection that is frightening.
    *
    Screw the neighbors. Screw the neighborhood. That is what the Zoning Commission just did.

  9. This is not the first time the egos of some attorneys in the law department has put the city in a precarious position : to wit:
    In the 90’s cousel did a great job of prevailing in the case to allow outsoucing the introduction of recycling for the city. Unfortunately, when the city attorneywas interviewed by the local newspaper about his win, he was so full,of himself, that he revealed the cases and arguments that would have caused the Union to prevail , rather than the city.
    The union immediately followed on this and acted to appeal based on revelatios publised for all to read..
    Susequently city counsel recognised the city was going to lose on appeal,, with a hefty payout to the union…at his request a others worked out a selltlmen/deal was worked out toprovide incentives to the union if they would withdraw their action against the city”….” As the saying goes ” loose lips sink ships.
    Perfect example of being so egotistical, and not seeking expert counsel to partner withthat the city had to give concessions not to have the case overtuned ……and cost millions of dollars
    Too, in another, casewhere a city employee was bringing an action for work related injuries, counsel for the city chose not to use an expert to sort out the payment/settlement terms. Finally,, the day of settlement conference dept corp counsel(with back up against the wall) agreed to enlist the services of the expert . Within hours case was resolved saving the city substantial financial payout…..
    The point being, that city attorneys need to knowearly on when outside counsel is required and not be led by their ego’
    This most recent proposed settlement appears to be a situation,once again, where clearer heads may well have had this sorted out years ago had outside counsel been reatained early on.

  10. TheNorwalker

    Once this facility is in operation that intersection will be a disaster.

  11. and so it goes

    Norwalk got a square deal, only have to pay $330,000 to the legal eagle$ and install a $50,000 security fence for free, to Stonegate, to keep the muslims out. Square deal for all. Wait $330,000 + $50,000 = $370,000. And what does Norwalk get? Oh Yeah, another tax exempt organized religion place of gathering in a location that everyone knows is not beneficial to the area, everyone accept the muslims moving in. Stonegate votes YES for the free restricted security perimeter. And Santo tosses the hot potato to Hempstead with best wishes.. Bon appetit, Doug.

  12. Amanda

    I am simply disgusted. I knew the decision had been made prior to last nights meeting. Disgusted and heartbroken. Our officials could care less.

  13. John Hamlin

    The votes were basically expected, and the approval was inevitable under the circumstances. But what about Emily Wilson’s vote? It was reported that she was involved in negotiating the settlement but now votes against it? What was that about? Any explanation? Any ideas?

  14. SMO

    A bunch of hysterical people? Wow – that’s rich. I guess it’s hysterical to not want your property values to decline precipitously. $10 – $15 million for Norwalk is a lot less than $100,000 per household – do the math. Do you know what Norwalk’s annual budget is? It’s $317 million. So $16 million will break the bank? Come on. The local politicians are hiding behind the federal statute to cover their asses! Oh, and the leader stands up and says they don’t plan on growing – that’s a rich one too. How much space do 100 families need? This is bad because it further sets the precedent that if you lean on Norwalk hard enough they’ll fold like a house of cards. Rilling will be voted out ASAP.

  15. anon

    Norwalk Corporate Counsel Mario Coppola at his other job.

    Comments regarding Greenwich Reform Synagogue plan for 12,000 square foot structure on 2 acres in Greenwich.

    “We (Greenwich Reform Synagogue) are confident in the quality of the people on the Planning and Zoning Board and confident in the plan’s merits,” she said.”… “However, COPPOLA responded. “We are confident that if the commission were to deny or approve the preliminary site plan and condition it on the building not exceeding 10,000 square feet, the decision would not in any way violate RLUIPA.” http://www.greenwichtime.com/local/article/Temple-plan-faces-vote-5523881.php

    “The neighbors continue to have genuine concerns about certain issues relating to the proposed development,” said MARIO COPPOLA, an attorney representing Cos Cob residents, “mainly a lack of adequate parking and the size of the building, which is significantly out of scope with the other buildings in the neighborhood.” “We continue to advocate what we think to be very, very reasonable requests made to the commission and the applicant,” COPPOLA said.” http://www.greenwichtime.com/local/article/Temple-plan-faces-vote-5523881.php

    “Residents say they are not opposed to the synagogue, but rather its size and scope. COPPOLA urged the 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, lighting, signage and off-site parking.” http://www.greenwichtime.com/local/article/Synagogue-proposal-draws-ire-5289369.php

  16. One and Done

    Santo folded like a cheap tent under threat of personal law suits. Too bad he will come to realize that his driving school just went out of business.

  17. UN Envoy

    Suzanne, and everyone else: the mosque representatives bought a property based on our existing zoning code. They presented a plan that followed our code exactly. That plan was rejected in a hearing so badly handled by Joe Santo and Robert Maslan that they basically handed a victory over to the applicant in an appeal. Read the lawsuit NON has linked to in previous articles. It mentions Joe Santo’s remarks many times along with the actions of city staff. Under RLUIPA , it’s not hard to prove discrimination with a subjective and badly written zoning code and a hearing that was mishandled from beginning to end. Maslan guaranteed a mosque victory when he presented a new resolution to vote on in the final hearing in 2012, just a few minutes before the meeting with no time for the commission to discuss it. This interfered with the process by replacing the resolution the commission had discussed and voted on in an earlier meeting. The new resolution that the commission was forced to vote on was so poorly written that it is effectively picked apart point by point in the lawsuit.
    ;
    The city would have easily lost the case, the larger mosque would have been built, and taxpayers would have been on the hook for millions, that would have been just thrown away to appease the neighbors who thought we could fight this and win.
    ;
    Your anger should be with a zoning code and a planning process that doesn’t work, and that encouraged the mosque to buy this property in the first place. It should not be with the existing commission that protected the city and the neighborhood from major harm. What would you say when that could have happened, and we got the bigger mosque, less parking, and huge legal bills? Who would you blame then? The commission made the best decision for the city.

  18. The Man

    I got a real sense last night of how African Americans must have felt when they were trying to move into white neighborhoods. The same hystrionics about property value declining if the black family / church moved in. How many times are you going to play the card folks? Let’s face it the North Taylor section is a low class dump. When you hear people talking about yards from which junked cars are never moved you have to wonder whether the property values are exactly where they are supposed to be
    ;
    The mob mentality and the discouteousness of the opposition was shocking. This is a group of people who suddenly realized that they had been nested by a bunch of brown people who they thought could barely speak English. These weren’t the type of people who had the termerity to take the city to court. Once reality sunk they would have rioted and burnt their own neighborhood down but they smoke any more so no lighters.

  19. Pibermanfmc

    Citizens upset with the outcome need look in the mirror. Did the Mosque issue receive proper attention and questioning during the recent campaign by the candidates ? Similarly citizens complain about property taxes but do not demand discussion of same during the campaigns.
    Norwalk citizens unfortunately receive the local governance they deserve. But any long timer can tell you it wasn’t always studied indifference that characterized City politics. Once we had a citizenry that did their homework before casting the Party line. And demanded competent candidates for public office.

  20. The Man

    Anyone know what type of sales Isabelle Hargroves is involved in? I’d like to call all of her Muslim customers and suggest that they drop her. They shouldn’t be providing employment to Le Pen supporters.

  21. Don Chiodo

    Why is the city picking up the legal bill and cost for the gate? Just amazing.

  22. EveT

    “Your anger should be with a zoning code and a planning process that doesn’t work” and with the U.S. Congress which enacted RLUIPA. These things can be changed, but it will take a lot of perseverance and understanding of the political process. Call Himes, Blumenthal, and Murphy about RLUIPA. Call your Common Council members and the mayor about Norwalk’s dysfunctional zoning code and planning process.

  23. Suzanne

    UnEnvoy, Once again, if you are going to criticize me, please review what I have said on countless threads and mentioned above. The Zoning Code needs reform especially in regard to facilities like this one being built in residential areas.
    *
    That the hearings were poorly conducted, particularly in regard to Mr. Santos who seems to think he is playing Tiddly Winks with our lives up there instead of representing a constituency as a professional, does not surprise me in the least. And, I was well aware of the flawed process prior to this hearing, elucidated so well by Mike Mushak in countless entries on Nancy on Norwalk.
    *
    The last harbinger of this debacle WAS the Zoning Commissions’ refusal to allow such a process to continue. They did not. They did not recognize the community. They did not challenge the flawed process. The did not challenge the broken Codes (how would anything change if they do not?)
    *
    I will hold the Zoning Commission responsible for this part of the process: who is going to stop the errors in judgement that allow this huge building on too small a lot exiting into a traffic nightmare? Who is going to stand up and say “This is not right?” Who if not a member of any group that serves the community including the Zoning Commission?
    *
    The public showed up hoping someone, anyone who had the power would do the right thing. They did not. For that, I hold the Zoning Commission responsible.
    *
    I am guessing that, for money, the Council will go right along. I have absolutely NO confidence that this Town Government either knows what it is doing or knows to whom they are beholden, the constituency, or know who they protect, the constituency (that would be the part that does not hide behind discrimination statutes to get their way when they have done the wrong thing, purchased too small a property in the wrong place, in the first place.)
    *
    “The commission made the best decision for the city?” No, it is lawyers who made this decision. The Zoning Commission did not take the time nor the self-examination to review the flawed process and stop it. They never do. And that is why this mosque will be built, too large, in the wrong spot. Shame on the lot of them.

  24. Average Joe

    The headline of this story should be “Zoning gives middle finger to residents in Mosque Settlement”

    I’ll be starting my own church and building a Ferris Wheel in my front yard. When the City tells me NO, I’ll sue them under the RLUIPA Act.

  25. Joe

    Nora King is wrong. This isn’t a federal issue.

    This is a democrats-running-the-state-of-Connecticut issue. More stupidity and ridiculousness. Where’s Malloy, Duff, Blumenthal, Himes and Murphy? They’re hiding and they’re not even being questioned.

    We need some common sense here and we’re not getting it from them. This is a state’s right issue.

  26. John Hamlin

    @UN Envoy —

    You got it exactly right. It’s the zoning regs and the whole zoning and planning approach in Norwalk.

  27. Wineshine

    What is most upsetting, in light of all the passionate arguments that were heard last night, is the unwillingness for these new neighbors to come to the table, and work with the community to devise a reasonable plan for the property. End of story.

    If you believe that this whole plan was not orchestrated by Al Madany, and their attorneys from the beginning, as a way to extort money from the city, they you’re sadly mistaken. There can be no other viable perspective. Propose an outlandish plan which is sure to be rejected, sue on the basis of religious discrimination, and demand a settlement. Dangerous precedent has been set.

  28. Hello I Must Be Going

    Anyone who voted for our current mayor should’ve seen this coming a mile away.

    I run/walk daily through the area where the mosque will be. The intersection there already is extremely dangerous. The blind curve and overgrown foliage combined with speeding drivers who run the stop sign without bothering to look have made it a death trap. This new structure is just going to make it worse–and it’ll end up being as congested and dangerous as NCC has made Richards Avenue.

    Funny how our city “leaders” only seem to be concerned for our safety when they’re installing mind-bogglingly superfluous stop signs on Fox Run Road. If they prioritized doing what we actually pay them to do over appeasing every special interest group that comes along, we might actually get a few roads paved. (Mine haven’t been done ONCE in the entire 25 years I’ve lived in this city)

    I only hope that, during the next municipal election, residents (and not just public union members) will wake up and actually show up to VOTE. Then and only then will we be able course correct and put this city back on the right path.

  29. Average Joe

    This statement from “Wineshine” hits the nail on the head…

    “If you believe that this whole plan was not orchestrated by Al Madany, and their attorneys from the beginning, as a way to extort money from the city, they you’re sadly mistaken. There can be no other viable perspective. Propose an outlandish plan which is sure to be rejected, sue on the basis of religious discrimination, and demand a settlement. Dangerous precedent has been set.”

  30. Ms Ruby McPherson

    Zoning, but when South Norwalk residents complain about all the dirt company surrounding San Van, South Main Meadow and Knapp. Can man, Grasso, Bonadino, Le Blanc’s, city carting, oh just to name a few. But we are told “why don’t you move.” The people in all communities expect the officials to work for them, but someone answer this question, Why is all of this in South Norwalk only along with traffic and speeding trucks?

  31. Jeff

    Last night was ugly. The mayor and zoning board did the city such a disservice by not holding multiple public forums and presenting other options in resolving this matter amicably among all the parties involved. Add this with a missed grand opportunity to create harmony among racial and religious divides and what evolved was a lose/ lose situation for all involved. I find it distasteful that city officials were hiding under the auspices of “confidentiality” to rifle their agenda through. The Mayor could have directed our legal counsel to petition the court and seek public comment prior to entering into settlement discussions. What other potential options could have been offered to this religious group? Unfortunately one will never know . . . last I checked we live in a democracy. Regrettably, this is what happens when “government knows best” officials are elected into public office. Peter Nolin’s remarks were spot about understanding who the client is and should be commended by calling out the zoning board and city attorneys..

    Call this wishful thinking but given the fact that the mosque will clearly need time to raise funds and perhaps when this regime gets voted out and sensible city leaders are elected, there still may be a chance to make this right.

  32. Hello I Must Be Going

    Ruby, I agree with you – the city ignores the needs of South Norwalk residents, too.

    BTW – speeding trucks aren’t just a problem in South Norwalk. Check out Route 123 on any given morning, and you’ll see veritable convoys of tractor trailers, box trucks, and landcapers speeding through to reach our wealthier neighbors in New Canaan and New York. And now that our city leaders also have caved to developers, we’ve got a huge senior assisted living facility going in where the Italian Club used to be. That’ll put even more strain on our one-lane New Canaan Avenue. Do any of our elected officials and their appointees understand the concept of long-term planning? Apparently not.

  33. Hello I Must Be Going

    UN Envoy:

    It is the responsibility of city officials to fix problems in the zoning code. We do not elect them to shrug their shoulders and say, “Oh well, it’s always been this wau and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

    This “pass the buck” attitude of the people elected to represent us is getting very tiring. And in case you haven’t noticed…if Norwalk crumbled every time some person or group filed a lawsuit, we would have ceased to exist long ago.

  34. Jen

    The congregation has said they will need 5 years to raise funds to build. Hopefully a better site can be found and presented to them so they can build their facility the way they choose. Why this wasn’t done already is a very good question and one that was not answered properly when asked last night.

    Next on the agenda is to get the zoning laws fixed so this does not continue to happen. Dealing with RLUIPA is another matter that needs tending to. Norwalk is not the only municipality dealing with this situation. New Castle, NY is going through this now as well.

  35. Oyster

    I am wondering if the City will have the ability to appeal this mess due to inadequate legal representation. Between Mr. Coppola’s Jekyl and Hyde routine and Marcy Hamilton’s blatantly political statements, its no wonder the mods to the building amount to no more than removing one layer of legos from each surface.
    .
    The Muslim community deserves to have a mosque, and they should have a right to develop the property that was purchased in good faith.
    .
    This City deserves leadership in planning and zoning that does not repeatedly drive these decisions into a ditch.

  36. One and Done

    Five years to get funding? Does anyone believe that for a second? Even it they weren’t backed by huge sums of foreign monies, you think they wouldn’t sue a bank on the basis of discrimination? I’d also give it about 30 days once the minaret is blaring out the call to prayer before they sue to have that provision stricken on grounds of religious discrimination. This is only the beginning and the mosque folks have shown their true colors on their lack of respect for the neighbors and residents of this city. We all know what happens once you give into a bully.

  37. Michael McGuire

    I wonder if Al Madany would consider purchasing a church facility? I understand that the former Grace Episcopal church on the corner of Mott and Union Park Ave may still be available, it certainly was during the past year. Might be a tad small at just over 15,000 SF but its a start and would get them out of their current confined worship space. Its easy to get to right off Exit 1 of Rt.7, and likely a good candidate for expansion over time, if not immediately.

    Being a good neighbor is important. Its a cornerstone of every great religion. My mom, a very wise and caring woman, once told me – ‘you can be right, or you can be in relationship’. RLUIPA might make Al Madany right, but at what cost?

    In a city this large there has to be other space more suitable than the current location. My firm specializes in finding commercial properties that fit a need. I’d be happy to work with Al Madany pro bono to see what other options are available.

    And lets ease up on the Zoning Commission – they are between a rock and a hard place created by the conflict between archaic zoning and RLUIPA.

  38. LWitherspoon

    I was surprised by a couple of things at last night’s hearing.
    .
    First, it saddens me to see such conflict between a neighborhood and a religious group. Perhaps proponents and opponents should be speaking TO each other, rather than AT the zoning commission.
    .
    I am certain that many of the objectors believe their complaints are based solely on traffic and scale. At the same time, a number of speakers used language that needlessly caused division. When you use words like “these people”, it hurts if you’re one of “those people” and it reinforces Al Madany’s view that they are a put-upon minority group. Whatever the outcome of the mosque controversy, I hope there will be efforts to have dialogue and reconciliation between Al Madany and West Norwalk.
    .
    Second, I thought it was admirable that the commission made an effort to answer the questions asked by speakers. I believe I heard the City’s lawyer say that the settlement discussions did not explore the possibility of an alternate location. If so, I’d like to know why. Clearly, part of what drove Al Madany’s purchase of the Fillow Street property was economics. That being the case, why did Mayor Rilling’s administration never even discuss finding a new and larger site for Al Madany, perhaps with limited taxpayer assistance? There could be a win-win situation which pleases West Norwalk and Al Madany.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ LWitherspoon

      In one of our video,s Peter Nolin said Mayor Rilling had said he agreed about trying to find another location. He has indicated to us that it is something that could be explored. It is our educated guess that these things will be discussed more fully after the Council vote if the suit is put to rest. Should the Council reject the now-reduced payout ($53,000 to Stonegate; the insurance will pay the rest), the suit would continue and I would expect everyone to go back to being tight-lipped.

  39. SMO

    Now we hear that the insurance company will pay the settlement. Maybe the insurance would have paid part of the $10 million if Norwalk lost. Does anyone know if this is done yet? Is there no further way to fight this? Does anyone know where the funding came from to sue the city? They said they spent about $6 million so far to sue Norwalk I think. That’s a lot of money for an organization that will need 5 years to raise funds for a building.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @smo

      What we have reported so far:

      The legal team for Al Madany agreed to waive its fees if they lost. If Al Madany were to win at trial, the law allowed the legal team to bill Norwalk for the fees. The $307,500 payment from CIRMA to Al Madany is for legal expenses, but not fees.

      We do not know how much of the legal fees the insurance company would pay if Norwalk lost at trial.

      The settlement is not done until the Council votes. If the Council votes in favor, the city can still try to negotiate to perhaps help Al Madany find a different site or to do more to mitigate the traffic situation, but it will be voluntary.

      If Council votes no, the suit goes forward. Attorney Joseph Williams said continuing the negotiations would be unlikely, as there are court-ordered deadlines to be met for trial and prep will be a fulltime effort.

  40. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    The sorry spectacle of the storm that has been raging over the placement of the Al Madany Islamic Center here in Norwalk appears to be over—for the moment. The most distressing aspect of all of this is that it confirms to all—far and wide—what African-American and other minorities have known for some time: and that is that even here in our Blue, essentially liberal, middle income city, mistrust and fear still lurks subliminally of “the other” and anyone who looks or sounds a bit different from Beaver Cleaver and his family.

    That is not to impute that opposition to the placement of Al Madany has been openly racist. It has not. The main argument referred to again and again seems to have had to do with potential traffic congestion, a point that was effectively put to rest by Mr. Hussein Qadry at the public meeting last night. He has made it clear that any traffic at the mosque will come primarily at the prayer hours of 5 A.M. daily and 12:00 Noon on Fridays, times when children are not going to school, residents of the condo across the street are not leaving for or returning from work and there is almost no traffic out of the ordinary on the streets in question.

    Other arguments point to the legalistic manipulations involved on both sides and the financial pressure on the city to “cave in” rather than face horrendous legal fees potentially brought on by a court case. But, as we have been told, the anger belongs not with the city administration but with the U.S. Congress for enacting RLUIPA into law. Well, that law may be inadequate and misconceived, but, to my knowledge, it is the law of the land (i.e. the entire U.S.) and challenges have come “almost solely from municipalities and local government associations – groups which stand to lose the most if religious organizations can ignore zoning laws.” That does not seem to be the case here in Norwalk. However, one letter writer advances the absurd and insulting suggestion to Muslim-Americans that the whole issue was engineered by Al Madany to “bilk” the city out of moneys. There you have it. Next it’s an Al Qaeda plot.

    The avalanche of opposing letters also refers to property values that, in one case allegedly have dropped by 75% in the neighborhood in question at just the threat of an incoming mosque. How, one wonders, was that startling percentage determined in view of the measured drop in all property values everywhere due to the slow economic recovery? Were there other factors relating to the condition of the property that took the loss? How, one again wonders, can the coming of a peaceful and legal religious center precipitate an evacuation panic in an otherwise settled neighborhood?

    One has to observe that there must be some underlying fears working under all the rationalizations. That thought uncovers a very disturbing possibility that reveals the subconscious undercurrents that still plague even our corner of “liberal” New England.

  41. The Man

    @smo do you know what pro bono means? The NY law firm which defends white collar criminals is giving a charitable donation to the mosque. The RLUIPA law allows it to recover fees from the city.

  42. LWitherspoon

    @Mark Chapman
    .
    Thank you for the additional information. I still find it troubling that no attempt was made to find an alternate location during settlement talks. Trying to talk about an alternate location AFTER approval of the settlement would leave the City in a very weak negotiating position, since Al Madany would have the existing approved plan as a fallback.

  43. Bill

    The Muslims should realize you don’t come into a new community and make enemies. If people don’t want you, move on. Jesus would have turned the other cheek and moved on, but these guys like to fight.

  44. One and Done

    Spoon is spot on. The city lost all its leverage Thursday night. The story is coming out now finally, but it is clear as day that Rilling screwed us.
    .
    @RLF. I don’t think zoning decided against this for any reason other than it being too large for the lot and intersection, but eventually they caved from threats of personal law suits.
    .
    As for other proclivities, who knows? Maybe people see the leader of the Catholic Church talking about things like social justice and doing more for the poor juxtaposed with a supreme leader who advocates for the destruction of America and Israel and they have drawn other conclusions based on the silence of others at the community level. Invading a residential area with grand designs to change its shape and character isn’t in line with being neighborly.

  45. Wineshine

    Mr. Qadry, a writer states, “made it clear” that traffic will not be an issue and that the point was “effectively put to rest” since the mosque will only hold services once per day at 5am, and on Friday at noon. As a point of clarification, for those who don’t know, Muslim call to mandatory prayer occurs five times each day, and a second call is made to assemble for prayer. Forgive me but I fail to believe that this group will deviate from what is practiced by the entire rest of the Muslim world. The amplification issue is another problem that the neighborhood will face, regardless of promises from the group.

  46. Piberman

    Anyone think it a bit “odd” Democrats support the Mosque application while Republicans oppose ? Can anyone recall a PZ decision decided along Party lines ? Will the Mosque application be an issue in next year’s elections? What lessons will the City’s minority residents take away from the Mosque protests ? After Democrats didn’t object to BOE members crying “discrimination” and demanding resignations their Party support of the Mosque application suggests City Democrats are the Norwalk’s true champions of the disadvantaged. Could be “game over” for the local GOP. Long term property owners are a vanishing species in Norwalk. The Mosque controversy has really underlined the future course of City politics – Democrats triumphant.

  47. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    @Piberman

    Isn’t it possible that (many) Democrats are more sensitive than (many) Republicans to the lasting effects of the (not so well) hidden fortress mentality that still permeates our society, fearful of anyone who is “different”?

  48. Iliveheretoo

    Home values in Norwalk are down and it has nothing to do with the Masque.
    The problem is that the school are getting worse every year because funding keeps getting reduced and also because your representatives are giving takes breaks to big box corps like Wallchart, Home Depot…etc

    Someone said look at the home values in West port and New Canaan..What?
    Those towns put tons of money into education and they don’t let in big box stores like Norwalk. To just give on example, Walmart, people who work at Walmart cant afford to live in Norwalk, So how does that help Norwalk.

    Stop blaming something that is not even there yet. Home values are going down cause they were inflated to begin with.

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