DOJ Closes RLUIPA Investigation After Illinois Village Allows Mosque Expansion*
On April 4, 2008, the Civil Rights Division notified the Village of Berkeley, Illinois that it was closing its investigation into whether the Village had violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by refusing to allow the Albanian Islamic Center’s 13,000-square foot expansion plan. The Division closed its investigation after the Village approved resolutions on March 18 permitting the mosque, which had operated on the site for more than 25 years, to go forward with its expansion.
In 1982, the Albanian Islamic Center purchased a 4.5 acre parcel of land housing a former school building on St. Charles Road, in Berkeley, Illinois and began holding religious services there. The Center has operated continuously at that location since then. The Center is the only Islamic institution in the Village of Berkeley and the only mosque in Illinois that aims specifically to serve Albanian immigrants.
In 2001, the land on which the mosque sits was rezoned as a business district, which permits only tax-generating businesses and residences built on top of ground-floor businesses. Existing uses were grandfathered, but alterations to existing uses were prohibited unless an exception was given. Between January 2004 and May 2007, the Center made four applications to construct an approximately 13,000-square-foot addition to the Center, including a minaret. The Center proposed to expand to accommodate its growing membership and to give the Center a more mosque-like appearance. The Center’s religious services were often crowded with congregants spilling out into the halls. The Village denied all four of these applications.
On August 3, 2007, the United States notified the Village that it had opened an investigation into whether the Village had violated RLUIPA by denying the Center’s applications for permission to expand. On March 18, the Village approved the Center’s proposed expansion and the Division closed its investigation in response.