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Simms: Council supports Norwalk mosque settlement

NORWALK, Conn. – If the Zoning Commission approves the proposed settlement of the lawsuit filed by the Al Madany Islamic Center against Norwalk the Common Council would certainly pass it, too, Minority Leader Travis Simms (D-District B) said Monday.

The settlement, which includes a hefty payment to the Stonegate Condominium Association, has a long way to go before that. The Sept. 4 Zoning Commission public hearing will likely include many comments against building a mosque, one source said.

Only one West Norwalk resident replied to a Saturday email from NancyOnNorwalk asking for an opinion of the settlement.

“I think the size and scope is still too much for the piece of property on Fillow Street at 21,800 square feet. It should not be allowed to be built for that continued reason size and scope. A 25 percent reduction is not enough for the less than 2 acres of property. I know a parking deck and a building of this size is NOT in keeping with the character of the neighborhood and will adversely affect property values,” said the man, who requested anonymity. “Also traffic is a major concern for that area.”

Attorney Joseph P. Williams of Shipman & Goodwin, who represents the Zoning Commission, said the settlement would be rejected if it were not approved by first the Zoning Commission and then the Common Council. “In that event, the parties would proceed with litigating the case, likely on an expedited track to trial,” he said.

The settlement, which was negotiated with the assistance of Zoning Commission Chairman Joe Santo and Zoning Commission Vice Chairwoman Emily Wilson, includes $307,000 for Al Madany. This money will not go into the mosque or lawyer’s pockets, Williams said.

“The settlement payment was based upon what the city estimated were the out-of-pocket costs that Al Madany has incurred in the litigation for things like court costs, transcripts and consulting experts,” Williams said.  “The settlement payment does not pay toward the legal fees of Wilmer Hale, the plaintiff’s lead counsel, or any costs that Al Madany incurred as part of the original application process.  The City has been informed that Wilmer Hale will write off any fees associated with the work that it has performed in this case on behalf of Al Madany.”

A commenter going under the name of “Ark” on this website said that the city is “buying off Stonegate with $60,000.”

“Stonegate Condominium is, and has been, a party to this litigation,” Williams said. “Accordingly, Stonegate is a participating party in the settlement.  In the settlement agreement, the city will agree to provide Stonegate a payment toward the cost of Stonegate erecting a security gate at the entrance to its property to prevent overflow parking from the mosque from entering the Stonegate parking area.  The contribution from the City will only cover a portion of Stonegate’s costs, and it is less than $60,000.  The parties are still in the process of finalizing the payment amount to Stonegate.”

Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) has taken heat on this website for indicating that he supported the settlement. On Monday, he said he wasn’t sure.

“It’s a little early for a definitive answer. I’m still looking at the details of the agreement and weighing the several options and the consequences of each one for the city,” Kimmel said.

But, he said, “It’s important to remember that, technically, the Council will have no role until the Zoning Commission completes its process and, even then, only if Zoning approves the settlement. I stand by my post over the weekend: We have three options, two of which could be very costly to the city; we are dealing with first rate lawyers on both sides; and we should not forget that these lawyers will examine the history of zoning decisions in Norwalk, especially those that relate to religious organizations. At this point, while I wholeheartedly agree with (attorney) Marci Hamilton’s assessment of the agreement, I will wait until the Zoning Commission makes its decision.”

Hamilton, a nationally renowned Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) expert who has represented the city in the case since November 2012, called the settlement “remarkable.”

Council Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said, “I really don’t have a lot of information for you. Basically, in any caucus we have to come to a decision of what we’re going to do. We’re waiting to see the public hearing.”

Simms said the Democratic caucus is unanimous in its support. “I am more than sure it will pass,” Simms said.

As parties to the lawsuit, zoning commissioners cannot comment. Mayor Harry Rilling declined comment, referring questions to the city’s lawyers.

“It’s always difficult to settle any kind of case when you are talking about awarding a person, any kind of funding from the city’s budget,” Simms said. “However, dealing with what we were faced with I think this is probably the best move the city could have made. I really have to commend Corporation Counsel, Mario (Coppola) and his staff, for the wonderful job they have done to get this settled.”

Comments

20 responses to “Simms: Council supports Norwalk mosque settlement”

  1. John Hamlin

    For those who are not pleased that a huge mosque is being built in West Norwalk, it seems like this is a great example of how more protective zoning regulation might have protected surrounding property owners. We hear the mantra “property owners have a right to do what they want with their property.” This is the logical conclusion of such thinking. If you don’t want a mosque or some other blight next door to you, then support strengthening the zoning and other protections for property owners. The problem here is that Norwalk doesn’t protect investments in property — or is inconsistent in its application of protections. The city goes after farm stand signs but won’t allow zoning regulation and enforcement to keep a huge mosque out of a residential neighborhood. Maybe time to upgrade the zoning regulations.

  2. EDR

    The settlement of this is all wrong. The comments from the anonymous West Norwalk neighbor are spot on. I think they should be captioned to say “let’s BJ’s to West Norwalk” because that is exactly what the City is doing with this settlement. The traffic at this property will be regionally generated and not by the neighborhood or city. Regardless of the downsizing the intersection cannot handle the traffic for a host of reasons that should be obvious to anyone who actually has driven the area.

    Our Mayor has a good reputation for working with everyone when he was Police Chief. I am sure he could find an acceptable solution for everyone if he sat down with the affected parties and found an alternative location.

  3. EveT

    Still unclear what is the purpose of the public hearing. The public clearly does not understand the law that this suit is based on. What effect can the hearing have on the outcome?

  4. JY

    Everything that EDR said above is absolutely true. The Mosque must not be built!!!!!

  5. PNolin

    As a West Norwalk resident for more than 50 years I oppose the Al-Madany proposal. A Mosque, like any other house of worship, is welcome in Norwalk as long as the location and parcel size are appropriate. Neither is true for this proposal. Three buildings including a large community center on this two acre parcel is not appropriate. The corner at issue, given the extreme curve coming into it from the Kendall neighborhood and the elevation of that curve above the intersection make it a very dangerous corner even when weather is perfect and traffic is light. Add what will certainly be hundreds of cars parked on and off the site (the proposal is for less than 200 spaces on the property) and we will make this a traffic nightmare for years to come. Nothing in this alleged compromise will reduce the parking or traffic problems. Voting for this settlement is voting for the ruin of this area of Norwalk.

    To Zoning Commissioners and Council Members please do not disregard all of the residents and homeowners who live in the area and oppose this giant project. Our legal case is winnable and should not be abandoned for such an unfavorable settlement. The Mayor assured us in the last election that he would let the case take its course. That is exactly what we should do.

  6. Aga Khan

    @john Hamilton. You are incorrect in suggesting that a more restrictive zoning code would have prevented the mosque from being located in West Norwalk or on Fillow Street.

    To be successful under RLUIPA the mosque would have to show that it’s free exercise of religion would be burdened by a denial. The burden then shifts to the City to show that the denial was in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and that denying the application was the least restrictive way of furthering the interest. I have posted the full text below. Under this prong the mosque does not have to show that it was discriminated against, simply that the free exercise of religion was “burdened” Under this language a house of worship could be built anywhere in a city.

    Time and time the zoning officials and those a opposing the mosque have ignored RLUIPA. I assume that they had never encountered it and thought that this was going to be just another zoning dispute where they had unfettered power.

    You may also bee interested to learn that RLUIPA was enacted for the benefit of Christian denominations who were being opposed for all the same reason we hear here — traffic, size, parking etc.

    All citizens of Norwalk deserve to be treated equally under the law. You can’t blame the Islamics for exercising their rights under the constitution and other laws. They’re being American.

  7. Aga Khan

    Oops forgot to include the text

    General rule. No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government can demonstrate that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly or institution
    is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
    is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

  8. Oldtimer

    The effect of the law has been to allow houses of worship of any kind in any zone in any community. The chances of preventing a mosque on Fillow St are slim to none, and the cost of trying could be enormous. The original plan was turned down by zoning for too much mosque (and support buildings) and not enough off-street parking. These objections seem to have been met and further opposition seems to support their discrimination charges. It is time to accept a mosque on the property and hope they will be good neighbors.

  9. peter parker

    This mosque is much too large and should not be approved as currently proposed. Zoning should not approve it as it stands, it’s still much too large, and will stand out like a sore thumb. It’s a currently a monster design and should not be built.

    The Mayor has dropped the ball on this like most everything else. He is useless and has no spine, he’s roll over Harry, middle of the road guy who can’t take a stand. Maybe if he spent more time on city business and less time out on the sound boating and posing for pictures he’d get something done.

  10. Scott

    A few questions. I know this to be a difficult intersection, especially traveling from North Taylor to Fillow. Try it with a commercial vehicle and you’ll really see. Was there a traffic study performed by both parties? Secondly, are the building and zoning rregulations the same for a private residence. If i wanted to erect a 60′ tall wind turbine on my property for personal use would it be allowed? There cannot be special rules. Last I need to proclaim ignorance because I have never entered into litigation, are these costs real world numbers? If so how can the common peeson ever have their day in court. For Al Madany to use disrimination (which they have no burden of proof. I don’t know who the fool that wrote that law was) to force the city’s hand for permission to build is one thing. But to seek monetary compensation is a slap in the public’s face that invites more hatred from the people they need to live amongst..

  11. Suzanne

    I don’t understand Mr. Simms enthusiasm for this settlement at all. It seems out of context – looking at the price of everything but the value of nothing. RLUIPA has been a disaster for many communities across the states because it has been the excuse to place inappropriate buildings on sites, in this case, way too small for the proposed square footage and parking.
    *
    Add to that the intersection as described above and I have to ask, “What are you thinking????”
    *
    It is no surprise to me that Joe Santo and Emily Wilson are, in part, responsible for the pay out of $307,000 to Al Madany, adding insult to injury, for their “petty expenses.”
    *
    I know what the law says, Aga Khan, but it, like many Zoning regulations in the Town of Norwalk, needs to be changed. This is NOT about religious discrimination as you seem to be so willing to allude to. The idea that Muslims will be using this facility is not at issue. What is, is the size and scope, again mentioned above, for the religious activity described that will endanger those who use an already dangerous intersection.
    *
    And no, Scott, you would not be able to erect the structures you mentioned – in fact, Zoning would likely turn you down flat. There are special rules being applied here and, frankly, it is not fair to West Norwalk that this is the case.
    *
    I am not opposed to a Mosque or the freedom of worship by any group. I am opposed to a Mosque at this very inappropriate site. The Zoning Commission will cave and the City Council will cave – get ready, West Norwalk. Here comes a larger than safety allows building right into your neighborhood.
    *
    Does Mr. Simms even live in the neighborhood? Does he understand the impact? I think not.

  12. Suzanne

    I notice those beautiful blueprints, pictured above, show nothing of that wonderful parking deck we can all look forward to.

  13. Tim D

    What’s wrong with the democratic side of the council speaking out so unwisely on this issue? Hopefully voters with remember this…

    The City ought to offer a settlement to the property owner directly abutting this site. Such a nice quiet tucked away house – to be no more. Homeowner: if you read this – let me know, I’d like to help.

  14. Openyoureyes

    I agree with EveT’s comment. I already knew but reading through these comments further proves the point that most residents are unaware that the lawsuit is a separate issue from whether or not the Mosque will be built. Win, lose, or draw on this lawsuit, they can still build the mosque. If the city wins, they can still build the mosque. If the city loses, they can still build the mosque. If the city settles, they can still build the mosque.

    Settling or winning ensures the city will still be able to afford to run a school system, keep officers on the street, pave roads. Taking a chance on losing, well city services are getting cut once the City finishes paying.

  15. Carol

    please people come to the public hearing next week and vote NO ON THE MOSQUE.
    this is one time when size does mater and we should not be paying then anything—–

  16. PNolin

    Openyoureyes: I think you are wrong legally when you say Al-Madany gets to build win, lose or draw in the litigation. If City wins, then the only remedy for Al-Madany is to re-apply with a different proposal. They do not automatically get to build whatever they want. If the new proposal does not meet the traffic and parking concerns Norwalk could of course turn it down again.

    Here the issue has never been the mosque itself. So claims of religious discrimination are particularly weak. This proposal was turned down largely if not entirely because of the attached community center which will surely overburden the site, parking and traffic requirements. If Al-Madany applied for just the mosque I am sure they would have little or no community opposition.

    And of course under 28 USC 1988, Al-Madany itself can be liable for Norwalk’s fees if it is found to have sued in bad faith, so a second claim after losing this case would be especially dangerous for them.

    So another solution, build the Mosque as proposed and build the community center elsewhere. The community center is not a protected exercise of religion and should not serve as a valid grounds for a RLUIPA claim.

  17. Dennis DiManis

    Oldtimer says he “hopes they will be good neighbors” If they were good neighbors, they wouldn’t be forcing their way into a location where no one wants them. They are the worst neighbors. Hell’s Angels or the Money Green Gang would be better neighbors.

  18. Debora

    The traffic argument may be further undermined by the plans for the driving range at Oak Hills golf course. Though the projections are sketchy, it looks like OHPA believes there’s another half a million in gross revenue available from 40,000 rounds of golf. This plan was approved without an associated traffic study, even though the unapproved master plan from the 90s contained both a traffic study and a soils report.
    When golf is the issue, in the same neighborhood, traffic appears to be of so little concern that we didn’t even care enough to review the impact on traffic of a two-story, 36 bay driving range, even though it is supposed to be the lifeblood of new revenues for the course.

  19. TLaw

    OldTimer – would you ever take a stand on anything? No one posting on NoN makes more excuses than you. It’s laughable and in-credible.

  20. One and Done

    when is Simms actually going to give the monies he promised out of his lawsuit outcome against the city to the deserving kids he pretends to care about? Does anyone else find it unbelievable that someone who has sued the city for a slip and fall type accident has power to determine how much of our tax dollars go to another frivolous suit? Incredible.

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