NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by backers of a controversial mosque proposal has been denied without prejudice, court documents show.
The city had filed a motion April 15 to dismiss the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in New Haven by the Al Madany Islamic Center after the Zoning Commission denied its application to build a mosque and multi-purpose hall at 127 Fillow St., an application hotly opposed by residents of the area. A May 7 order signed by Judge Michael P. Shea denies that request in light of a second amended complaint filed that day by Al Madany’s lawyers.The order notes that the defendants may renew their application for dismissal.
The city’s motion, filed by Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan and Joseph Williams and Amber Sarno of Shipman and Goodwin in Hartford, argued that Al Madany should have filed in state court and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), which is cited by Al Madany’s lawsuit, is unconstitutional “under the inherent limits of federalism and the Tenth Amendment, as well as the Establishment Clause.”
The May 7 second amended complaint, filed by John F. Fallon Esq. of Fairfield and Peter K. Vigeland of the New York City law firm Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr, cites four statutes in its argument that the venue is appropriate.
The Al Madany Islamic Center, which serves more than 100 families, bought the Fillow Street property in 2008. Its first application for a special permit to build a mosque there was in March 2010. A second special permit was submitted in June, but then withdrawn.
A third application was submitted in December 2011. Three emotional public hearings were held in April.
The plan review committee in its May 2012 meetings focused on the size of the mosque and multi-purpose hall relative to the property, the parking provided and validity of the traffic study done by the center, the city says in its motion. Commissioners discussed modifying the application to include only the mosque, but Fallon had stated that the center would be opposed to such a modification.
The commission voted 4-3 to deny the application in June. “Upon receipt of the commission’s denial, Al Madany did not modify and resubmit its application in an effort to gain the one additional vote that it needed to obtain its permit, as any ordinary developer would have, nor did it appeal the commission’s decision to the Connecticut Superior Court as provided in Connecticut General Statutes § 8-8(b).”
The lawsuit alleges that the Zoning Commission departed from its normal special permit application review and that its decision was influenced by “strong, discriminatory opposition.”
It includes numerous comments left on online news stories as proof of the discriminatory attitude in Norwalk regarding Muslims and alleges that Carol and Joe Mitchell sent a letter to the commission describing a “zoning jehad” with cases showing an intent to “infiltrate a residential community and go to war with the zoning board.”
Other, nonreligious organizations have had special permits approved “in spite of the fact that proposed buildings were in greater disharmony with the general purpose and intent of the Norwalk Zoning Regulations than Al Madany’s proposed structures are,” the lawsuit alleges. Other special permit applications filed by nonreligious organizations that were in an “equal harmony” as Al Madany’s proposal were approved, it alleges. Some nonreligious special permit applications were approved in spite of inadequate parking.
Auxiliary building instead of an accessory use “substantially burdens the Center’s religious exercise without using the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling governmental interest.”
The city’s April 18 filing notes that the center stated in its written application that the multi-purpose hall would be used primarily as a gymnasium.
The latest developments in the case are the filing of traffic studies by the center.