Norwalk, CT

model of proposed al madany ic.jpg

Description

A documented account of Case No. CT_02, occurring in Norwalk, CT, from June 2012 to September 2014

Creator

Ellen Harnisch

Year

2012

Proposed Project

The plan was set for a facility of roughly 27,000 square feet, including a mosque, a school, a place for daily prayer and parking for up to 89 cars. It was estimated that during prayer times, around 1,000 members could potentially be at the mosque (Goetz, 2014; Rivard 2012).

Outcome

The project was delayed and the final proposed settlement that the commission approved required the City of Norwalk to pay close to $2 million. Norwalk’s insurer paid Al-Madany $300,000, while the City itself paid Al-Madany about $1 million (Goetz, 2014). The City also spent over half a million dollars to buy the disputed plot of land on Fillow Street and to pay Al-Madany for development expenses, once it found another mosque location (Goetz, 2014).

Narrative

Background on the Case

Since the 1970s, the City of Norwalk’s Islamic community has grown larger and larger, to about 100 families in 2012. Muslim members of the community in Norwalk did not have a mosque, so they would worship in one of the congregant’s basement (Rivard, 2012). But by 2012, their community had grown so large that it was necessary that the members find a permanent, spacious location for their worship. They drew up plans to build a 27,000 square foot construction with a mosque, meeting hall, school, and parking lot with 89 spots. They settled on a location in a more residential area of Norwalk, where a little red farmhouse took up a plot of land on 127 Fillow Street (Rivard, 2012). The Muslim Community sent its application in to the Norwalk Zoning Commission in June 2012. The Commission denied the permit after a public hearing in which many Norwalk citizens declared their fervent disagreement with having the mosque in such a residential location (Koch, 2016; Rivard, 2012). The Muslim community then sued the Commission on discrimination charges and violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Key Events

April 4, 2012: The City of Norwalk held a public hearing so that community members could air their grievances about the proposed mosque. Most of the neighbors were concerned about traffic, as the road the mosque would be located on is a two lane road. Additionally, the neighbors argued, the traffic would be putting school children at risk near the street. Muslims pray five times per day, so presumably, there would be a higher influx of cars throughout the day, potentially putting pedestrians in danger (Koch, 2012).

June 2012: The Zoning Commission denied the Islamic community a permit to build their mosque, and the community filed suit on religious discrimination charges. The Zoning Commission asserted their decision was not religiously motivated (Koch, 2012).

December 2012: The City of Norwalk acknowledged that the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating the case (Koch, 2012).

January 2013-July 2014: The case continued to stay on the docket, with both sides hiring more lawyers and preparing their case. There was increasing pressure to settle because hearing the case would cost the City of Norwalk millions.

August 2014: The City of Norwalk and Al-Madany agreed on a proposal, pending approval by the Zoning Commission and Common Council, for a scaled-down mosque that was 22,000 square feet, with 135 parking spaces. The City of Norwalk and its insurer agreed to pay $300,000 to the congregation (CBS Local, 2014).

September 4, 2014: At another public hearing in Norwalk with the community and the Zoning Commission and a Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act expert, many citizens still disagreed with the proposal, mostly because of traffic thought to be dangerous and disruptive in a residential neighborhood. Al-Madany had compromised at this point, saying that they would reduce the building mass by 11% by eliminating two floors. They also agreed to cut back the width by 4 feet (CBS Local, 2014). In order to combat the traffic argument, they agreed to hire a police officer to direct traffic during their days of celebration. After the public hearing, the Commission voted in favor of the settlement 4-3. It was the Common Council’s responsibility subsequently to negotiate the monetary terms (Greenwich Free Press, 2014).

September 9, 2014: After hearing the complaints of the people at the Town Hall, the Common Council, even though the mosque location and design had been approved by the Zoning Commission, ultimately decided in a 14-0 decision that they would not allow Al-Madany to build on the Fillow Street property. The Islamic Center was paid reparations totaling roughly $1.3 million and the City helped them find a new location (CBS Local, 2014; Goetz, 2014).

2015: Al-Madany bought a plot of land in 2015 that had formerly belonged to the Christ Episcopal Church, who were very welcoming to the Islamic community when they said they wanted to buy the church (Chapman, 2015). The community still worships there today. It has been about 4 years since they moved in.

Outcome & Lasting Effects

The U.S. Department of Justice has “recommended” that the City of Norwalk and Zoning Committee reopen inquiries into the Zoning Regulations and initiate a Zoning reform to simplify the process for obtaining a special permit by updating criteria. In reality, Norwalk must take these “recommended” actions in order to avoid formal investigation by the DOJ (Koch, 2014). This push for a structural change in Zoning Regulations seems to be a debate that will continue for a number of years and will require multiple public hearings in the future (Koch, 2016a).

Last Updated

October 12, 2019

Collection

Citation

Ellen Harnisch, “Norwalk, CT,” U.S. Mosque Controversies, accessed September 27, 2021, https://usmc.ecdsomeka.org/items/show/10.

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