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Proposed mosque’s size ‘manifestly wrong’ for site

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To the Editor:

I’ll start with a quote from a Washington Post columnist who, four years ago, was writing about the mosque that was being proposed at Ground Zero in Manhattan.

“America is a free country where you can build whatever you want,” he wrote, “but not anywhere. That’s why we have zoning laws. No liquor store near a school, no strip malls where they offend local sensibilities and, if your house doesn’t meet community architectural codes, you cannot build at all.”  The writer was Charles Krauthammer.

Basically I align myself with those who say that building a structure of this size at 127 Fillow Street is manifestly wrong. Wrong in its location. Wrong in its impact on the neighborhood and on surrounding homeowners. Proven wrong by the denial two years ago, not changed in any substantial way in its impact on the neighborhood, but a small threat of a baseless lawsuit, and an administration stops at nothing to settle the case.

If residents of the West Norwalk and the Kendall neighborhoods feel betrayed by the political system, they are right.

The Rilling Administration began by failing to stand behind the Zoning Commission.

It failed to stand behind the neighborhood residents and parents and school-goers.

It failed to stand behind those many others who would have to contend with the inevitable traffic congestion on a residential road.

The people most seriously affected — the neighbors and homeowners — have lost their voice.  Nobody in power is speaking up for them.  Mayor Rilling’s silence and his stance … hidden firmly behind his out-of-town lawyer, who squelched all meaningful dialog on this issue, should now define the man.

Thus abandoned … it seems that the Stonegate Condo Association had little choice but to accept a $50,000 payment as part of the proposed settlement… in exchange for which they were required — publicly — to declare support for the deal.

But as I understand it, even $50,000 would not come close to compensating the association for the legal costs they incurred in trying to preserve their neighborhood.

The whole thing is shameful.

And it will be interesting to see if the residents of Norwalk will hold Mayor Rilling accountable.

Jim Feigenbaum

Norwalk

 

Comments

24 responses to “Proposed mosque’s size ‘manifestly wrong’ for site”

  1. John Hamlin

    It is great to see someone discussing the whole idea of zoning intended to protecting neighborhoods, community, and individual property owners. Unfortunately, the City, its Common Council, and its zoning commission members, and its zoning and planning department have neglected to take action to ensure that individual property owners can’t build whatever they want wherever they want or maintain and use their properties in any way they choose, regardless of the impact on surrounding property owners, the neighborhood, the community, and property values. That’s why Norwalk has become a big box repository for the neighboring towns. That’s why Norwalk still has no effective blight ordinance or any effective zoning enforcement. The City chases down those who post farm stand signs — that’s the focus of the zoning enforcement — but they can’t prevent building or blight that impacts surrounding property owners. And despite the mosque controversy, the very people who seem to be complaining about the mosque are many of the same ones who have supported or enabled weak zoning protections for years. The building of the mosque was a done deal the way Norwalk handles zoning. Don’t blame mayor Rilling — the deck was stacked the moment he took office — what did Mayor Moccia, the Common Council for the last decade, the zoning commission for 20 years, or the department of planning and zoning for the past 25 years do to protect individual property owners? Clearly not much.

  2. LWitherspoon

    Is the writer a Republican who used to sit on the BET?

  3. Bruce Kimmel

    The writer is a Republican member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation.
    .
    I would like to make several points that have made this a very difficult decision for all:
    .
    A judge ordered the city to negotiate a settlement, it was not a decision made by any single official. Because of our out of date zoning regulations, which Republican zoning officials have refused to update, the mosque actually met our zoning requirements. The city’s traffic consultants have said the additional traffic would occur very early in the morning, before rush hour, and on Friday afternoons, before schools let out. (However, I should note that building a driving range at Oak Hills, which I believe Mr. Feigenbaum supports, would indeed increase traffic in the area.)
    .
    I urge the writers who respond to this post address the above points.

  4. It’s just laws.

    Mr. Feigenbaum is wrong on many points. It was the Moccia Administration that failed the city and created this entire mess, with no attempts to work with the mosque at an early stage to help them find another property, and a bungled hearing by the staff and commissioner Joe Santo that basically guaranteed a victory for the mosque in any appeal. Read the lawsuit linked to NON several times which goes into detail about how our subjective poorly written zoning code and the actions of the Zoning Chair and staff all presented solid evidence of discrimination.
    ;
    The lawsuit also mentions decades of favorable decisions by the city for other religious institutions in AAA residence zones, including specifically unanimously approving a huge new 15,000 square foot community center (double the size of the mosque’s) for St. George’s on West Rocks Rd., and waiving traffic studies for St. Matthews (just across the park from the mosque site in the same neighborhood) repeatedly whenever they expanded over the years into a facility that now dwarfs the mosque in size and traffic generated, with seating for over 1,000 and over 300 parking spaces. It is clear the city treated all of those religious institutions differently, and the size of the property is completely irrelevant as the mosque application followed our zoning code for size, bulk, and lot coverage, which is why they bought the property in the first place. They weren’t looking to defy our code, and they didn’t. Does Mr. Feigenbaum and so many other mosque opponents think the city can just say our zoning code can just be arbitrarily applied depending on public opinion? That is a shocking and naive assumption, and guarantees a quick victory in any court.

    The truth is, the Rilling Administration inherited a huge mess from the Moccia Administration, and had no choice but to protect the neighborhood and the city as best it could from the original larger application, and financial suicide when faced with a federal judge’s mandate an dteh potential of up to $15 million in fees and damages. And it was the same legal team of prominent national experts that Mayor Moccia hired that recommended the settlement and called it “remarkable”. That is because they were aware of the overwhelming evidence against the city in this case, evidence Mr. Feigenbaum and others are now pretending is simply not there. It’s almost as if this crowd has constructed an alternative universe of facts, where laws and zoning codes do not matter, and personal opinions, mob rule, emotion and fear will somehow win in court.
    ;
    The reality is there will be a quick guaranteed loss in court by the city, because of the federal RLUIPA law that ironically resulted from conservative religious interests and property rights supporters like Mr. Feigenbaum himself, and other right wing property rights supporters who are now running around screaming that in this particular case, there should be no property rights at all and mob rule and thuggery will be enough to convince the judge to rule in the city’s favor.
    :
    The hypocrisy is astounding. Let’s not forget it was GOP Zoning Commissioners Linda Kruk and Emily Wilson who just months ago killed the Main Avenue zone change to protect the city from overdevelopment on a dangerous road near Silvermine and Cranbury, because they felt that “any property owner has a right to build anything they want at any size on property they own.” Well, unless you are Muslim of course.
    ;
    Probably the most shocking development of the zoning decision was Emily Wilson’s betrayal of Norwalk taxpayers and the directions of a federal judge. She negotiated the settlement in good faith, representing the commission and the city by repeatedly supporting the terms of the settlement she was responsible for. She then turned around and double-crossed the commission and city taxpayers, risking millions of dollars and the city’s AAA bond rating for purely political reasons.
    ;
    Ms. Wilson was also responsible for distributing a flyer in 2013 as part of her campaign for the Common Council (which she lost), while she was the Zoning Chair, that described the mosque as a “special interest that threatens the sovereignty of the City by imposing its wants and needs above the safety of the of people of Norwalk.” She is describing an applicant that followed the zoning code exactly. As a lawyer herself, she should have used better judgement than that, and also recused herself from any further involvement in the mosque case. Instead, she stealthily negotiated a settlement pretending she supported it all along, and then double-crossed the commission and the city by voting against that same settlement on Thursday night.
    ;
    Ms. Wilson’s actions alone will likely become evidence in any court case against the city if the settlement fails. It should also be looked into by the CT Bar Association for violations of professional standards. How can a lawyer double-cross it’s own client, especially when that client is an entire city she swore an oath to protect following the law when she was appointed?

  5. Debora

    Bruce,
    Points well taken, EXCEPT, that the accessory building is the issue not the worship building. The general purpose room etc can be used at any time for reasons other than spefically timed worship sessions. There is no meaningful analysis of traffic that can be taken for the use of this square footage without an explanation of why 100 families need space 4x larger than Stamford and twice as large as Greenwich.
    .
    As to Oak Hills Park, you are correct about the traffic related to the driving range. Which begs the question of why this council approved the use of millions of taxpayer dollars (state money is still taxpayer money) for a master plan than ran over a hundred pages without mentioning the word traffic even once, much less insisting on a traffic study (or even the proper procedure for approval of a park master plan). And did so while OHPA was in violation of both its lease with the city and with post grant restrictions from the original open space grants used to help fund the purchase of the park land.
    .
    This city seems very selective in its implementation of its own rules. We are draconian and punitive with respect to chicken coops and sidewalks, but we ignore written laws, deed restrictions and agreements with the state with impunity, and state legislators and nonprofit boards reallocate state money with a handshake and no citizen oversight at all.
    .
    There is very little “big picture” thinking in this city that goes beyond asking “will this make my taxes go up?”

  6. EveT

    To those who keep complaining that Mr. Coppola is fighting a RLUIPA case in Greenwich but capitulating in Norwalk: look at the Greenwich zoning code and planning process.

  7. cc-rider

    John Hamlin- don’t forget about Mike Mushak’s flower driveway flower pots…..Talk about misplaced priorities on the zoning commission. Mayor Rilling should make it a priority to clean house on this commission for many points brought up in the above comments.

  8. anon

    @Kimmel, Can you explain the math?
    Norwalk’s mosque will be 8 times the size of Stamford’s and 4 times the size of Greenwich’s.

    Stamford mosque-5,000 square feet on 2 acres of land, 100 members. 1+1=8 times smaller than Norwalk’s, same number of members.

    Greenwich mosque-12,000 square feet on 2 acres of land, 120 members. 1+1=4 times smaller than Norwalk’s, more members than Norwalk.

    Norwalk mosque-42,442 square feet on 1.5 acres of land, 100 members.

    The math says there are plans for this to be a REGIONAL DESTINATION.

    Or maybe,

    The math says the mosque expects its membership to quadruple in size. HOW?

    Mayor Rilling’s choice for Norwalk Corporate Counsel MARIO COPPOLA asked this question in Greenwich, “(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

    1. Mark Chapman

      @anon

      Let’s be sure we are using the similar and correct numbers. The usable space at the Al Madany Islamic Center, between the two buildings, will be 21,800 square feet, including gymnasium and classrooms. This is on 1.5 acres.

      According to the Stamford Tax Assessors Office records, the Stamford Islamic Center sits on .48 acre and its two buildings together have a total of 7,488 square feet of usable space. There is no listing I can find for a mosque in Greenwich, CT.

  9. Suzanne

    anon – your link references the planning and zoning process for a Reform Synagogue not a mosque. Just an FYI.

  10. Bill Dunne

    Why should we give any attention, let alone credence, to people on this blog site who are afraid to voice their opinions except from behind a mask?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Bill Dunne

      There is an unfortunate history here specifically, we are told, and in many other places to varying degrees of retribution, politically, socially and economically, against those who speak against those in power.

      That said, I have no respect for ELECTED officials, and those who are running for office or working for someone who is, or serving as a party operative, who hide behind the cloak of screen names while insulting others, in particular other officials and candidates. My favorites are those who accuse other officeholders of having no spine or being cowards while being cowardly enough to do it from behind the veil. We do have a few of those. In an ideal world, people would not feel the need to make everything personal or political or racial; they would concentrate on the facts of the issue at hand.

  11. Suzanne

    Mark Chapman, I agree with you completely. I do not feel safe divulging my full name on this site given the rancor. I do not claim to be “holier than thou” and I do have strong opinions for which I have received some, let’s say, uncomfortable responses. I did some reading on the subject of monikers on the Internet: it is a two-edged sword. There is reason to believe it allows more frank, detailed and truthful discussion because of the moniker’s protection. It also can cause sock puppet(try) and troll (ing) for which I know you are very familiar.

  12. anon

    @anon
    The house adjacent to the Stamford mosque is used for mosque business, according to oine research — offices and such. It used to be the main mosque .

    The little red house at 127 Fillie is included in the square footage, not additional, according to Attorney Joseph Williams, part of the city’s team .

    @Chapman, mistakes acknowledged, thanks.

    The religious building in Greenwich that Norwalk’s corporate counsel Mario Coppola is suing is a synagogue, not a mosque.

    The Stamford mosque is 5,208 square feet with a 3,000 square foot prayer hall. It is next to a 2,280 square foot two-family residence. @Chapman do you know if the two-family house is used for mosque purposes or renter-occupied? The Stamford mosque is in a Commercial zone off West Avenue with direct access to I95.

    Norwalk mosque mass square footage 42,442 square feet. Usable square feet 21,800 square feet (not including the 944 square foot antique house).

  13. One and Done

    @Mark. You would be served well to recall how some sought to have your spouse arrested for her oversight and what she thought questionably was not privileged conversation. I can see both sides of that argument, but her prosecution was malicious and vindictive and that kind of behavior isn’t limited to one side in city politics here.
    .
    Maybe that will jog your memory and help you understand why some chose to remain anonymous. With all due respect, but if you don’t get this by now you have a lot to learn here. And really, what do you know about some of the targets? Are you privy to all the back room politicking some of these individuals are doing while putting on a false front for your reporting and the community? I really don’t think so. Not everything is a nefarious plot, but most of the folks we are speaking about are self serving opportunists and others are concerned citizens who are self preservationists at the same time.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @O&D

      Oh, we remember all too well. And let me say this in the interest of full disclosure: Nancy and Eric disagree with me on most of this because of the whole retribution thing, which was, indeed, part of the fallout from that malicious and vindictive situation and it is still being felt.

      I also know that our names are on everything w write, and some others’ names are on everything they write. I believe that the public has a right to know what its elected and appointed reps are saying, and I believe that, if people want to represent the people, they have an obligation to be open and transparent. While we would never reveal who we know is behind the screen names — and we get asked often — I am personally disappointed in those, and we have them on both sides of the political aisle and both ides of this mosque discussion, who chose to obscure their real thoughts and feelings from the people who they want to represent and, in many cases, the people that will be paying their salaries.

      I have a policy: Trust no one. There are people here who have tried desperately to use and manipulate this site, and Nancy and me, through financial incentive and phony attempts at “friendship.” False fronts for our reporting? You bet. After all these years, my policy is arms-length relationships, cordial but wary verify whatever possible, attribute information and, if using something from unnamed sources, we must know who those sources are and there must be more than one. This not only gives validity to our reporting, but also puts it in context and lets the reader make connections. Is the councilman taking a position on this issue that is exactly opposite his stance on the same type of issue in another part of town? And if so, what is the motivation?

      By contrast, anonymous commenters, including public officials and their reps, are free to make assertions that carry none of that burden. It’s the difference between journalism and “newsfotainment,” which we see on cable news and all over the Internet — spread stories that gin up a point of view rather than spread facts that might cast doubt on the preferred narrative.

      I would urge readers to think about this when they read or hear anyone on any topic: Where is it coming from? What are the person’s credentials? Are they all from the left or right? Or are they non-aligned, non-partisan? Does Marci Hamilton, an acknowledged expert in RLUIPA who has challenged the Constitutionality of this law in the past and is passionate about her defense, willing to trash her reputation for a small-city mayor and his young corporation council? Do local lawyers and residents know more than these people? Too many people ignore the facts — a product of aforementioned newsfotainment shows and agenda-based websites.

      I do agree there are many self-serving opportunists involved in things everyday. When politicians and their reps tell me that if I need to know something I should call THEM and not non-aligned people, I laugh. It is like the used car person telling the customer not to bother researching the vehicle, he or she will tell you everything you need o know. And all of this brings us back to the problem of verifying “information” from blind sources and trusting based on emotion, not facts.

  14. One and Done

    Well thanks for acknowledging Mark. Some here want to make a difference without fear of retribution, which would certainly happen if they reveled their identities.
    .

  15. One and Done

    Mark, you mention Marci Hamilton’s flip flop. “Does Marci Hamilton, an acknowledged expert in RLUIPA who has challenged the Constitutionality of this law in the past and is passionate about her defense, willing to trash her reputation for a small-city mayor and his young corporation council?”
    .
    Or maybe she sees a lack of conviction on those currently charged with protecting the city that is needed to win such a case? Maybe she sees it as a no win situation and has decided to cut and run? How exactly would her reputation be tarnished? Her client decided to change its mind. In this case the city by electing Harry decided to change its mind even if they didn’t know that Harry would be out to lunch on most everything.

  16. Mea

    As I have mentioned before there is only one person who now needs to speak out and that’s our congressman. I live on N Taylor and I would like to know when this is going to be built next week, next month, etc. Since you kept us out of the talks at least let us know when the rock blasting will start so we can plan. That’s courteous right? That’s being a good neighbor.

  17. LWitherspoon

    @Mark Chapman
    .
    Marci Hamilton’s input is valuable, but it’s by no means a deciding factor. Lawyers are mercenaries who argue whatever side their client pays them to argue. Mr. Coppola himself is arguing in Greenwich that a proposed synagogue is out of scale, while at the same time advocating a settlement rather than fighting the same battle in Norwalk. Mr. Coppola and Ms. Hamilton aren’t free agents. Both attorneys take their direction from Mayor Rilling, and regardless of how they feel about the case personally, neither of them will say anything that runs counter to the Mayor’s express wishes.
    .
    I believe I heard Dave McCarthy state that Ms. Hamilton told him that Al Madany failed to present any evidence of discrimination, and that the case was one of the most winnable she had ever seen. If both of those statements are true, someone needs to explain why Norwalk should allow a development that the zoning commission previously described as out of scale, among other issues.

  18. @One&Done
    Thank you for your comments regarding the attempt to get me arrested.
    I would like to point out that my support for anonymous commenting would exist without that situation. As Suzanne said, “There is reason to believe it allows more frank, detailed and truthful discussion because of the moniker’s protection.”
    However, she is also correct when she says, “It also can cause sock puppet(try) and troll (ing)” That gives me cause for concern but I still support anonymous commenting. I think it’s important to give people a chance to share their opinions and provide information that they might otherwise not be able to share.
    while I also recognize that Norwalk is more prone to the atmosphere of retribution that we are speaking of than other communities (most?) I would support anonymous commenting anywhere, though perhaps the rules would be stricter in a less-combative place.

  19. Suzanne

    Mark, Based on your comment, does that make L Witherspoon’s or One & Done’s opinions “newsfotainment”? It truly makes me wonder, then, if so, why the heck would I participate in this forum if it is simply a form of entertainment and has no value in the community or as a dialogue between citizens?

    While I realize this is off topic re: the mosque and its size, I have no more to contribute on that subject but would like to know what you think about this one. Thank you.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Suzanne

      No. This is what you neighbors think. The proliferation of TV, radio and certain websites that pander to certain audiences for a buck — newsfotaiment. The difference between, say, the Washington Post and the National Enquirer.

  20. One and Done

    Careful Mark. It was the National Enquirer that reported on John Edwards sleaziness when outlets like the Washington Post decided to ignore it. We know what happened there.
    .
    That was before Amazon.com owned Washington Post. The objective is to control the information flow and messaging. Not to inform the people. Some also say NI only unleashed the story to benefit the Clintons. Again, the objective being to control the messaging.
    .
    Something you are not doing in my estimation.

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