Lilburn, GA

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Description

The congregation sought permission to expand two buildings into a 20,000-square-foot complex with a mosque, gym and cemetery. The Lilburn City Council rejected this proposal in November 2009 and a scaled-down proposal in December 2010. After the U.S. Department of Justice threatened to sue Lilburn, alleging religious discrimination, the city approved a modified proposal in August 2011. (Source: Liu 2012)

Creator

Alexander Cleveland, Ehren Fernandez, Andres Lebed Wright

Year

2009

Proposed Project

A 7.9 acre expansion on a lot owned by the Dar-E-Abbas Islamic Shi’a Center to develop a larger mosque, athletic facility, and cemetery.

Outcome

Delayed, partially approved

Narrative

On November 10th, 2009, in the city of Lilburn, Georgia, a proposal was made by the Dar-e ‘Abbas Islamic Shia Center to expand its mosque. In the initial proposal, the Dar-e ‘Abbas wanted to purchase 7.9 acres adjacent to their original property; this was rejected on November 18, 2009, by the city of Lilburn, as the mosque’s land would violate zoning regulation due to its size. In 2010, a second proposal was made by Dar-e ‘Abbas, in which the mosque followed all the zoning requirements (Bernarde 2011, Aug 16). However, the community of Lilburn voiced their disapproval on the basis that even though it followed the zoning requirements, the expansion of the mosque would foment traffic and occupy parking spaces in the area. Based primarily on this public outcry, the City Council of Lilburn rejected the second proposal in December of 2010, though the proposal followed all the zoning requirements. This was followed by a lawsuit from the Dar-e ’Abbas Center and a complaint from the Department of Justice saying rejecting it was unconstitutional and religiously discriminatory. In August of 2011, a third proposal was made and the council voted 3-1 to approve it (Anderson 2012, Aug 10). 

Dar-e ‘Abbas Islamic Shi’a Center Community

In Lilburn, the Shi’a Community began as a group of a few families during the Reagan era, but it grew considerably in the 1990s and 2000s, coming from India, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The Shi’a community in Lilburn consists mainly of the Dar-e ‘Abbas congregation as a religious and cultural community that retains much of the Muslim religious tradition, as well as continued propagation and teaching of Islam, as exemplified by ‘DAISY’ (Dar-e ‘Abbas Islamic School for Youth), where kids are encouraged to attend Islamic school every Saturday.

First Proposal

The first proposal to construct Dar-e ‘Abbas Islamic Shi’a Center began in 2009 and was rejected on the grounds that the religious center occupied more land than county residential zoning laws would permit. Ironically, Lilburn city government had previously blocked a proposed expansion of another Muslim community by mandating that religious centers occupy over 5 acres of land when commercially zoned after they learned of these development plans in 2003 (Holder 2011). The Dar-e ‘Abbas Islamic Shi’a Center’s first proposal was made in efforts to expand upon a preexisting mosque that had become too small to fit its 250 member congregation (Beasley 2009, Dec 17). On November 18 of 2009, the Shi’a community’s proposal to build a mosque, cemetery, and athletic facility on 7.9 acres adjacent to their preexisting mosque was rejected by the city council. The multipurpose facility violated a zoning requirement that mandated that religious institutions could not occupy a space of over five acres, which did not exist during the mosque’s original construction eleven years earlier (Beasley 2009, Dec 17). Thus the proposal was unanimously rejected by the city council (Bernarde 2011, Aug 16). The community filed a Federal Discrimination Lawsuit (Case No. 1:09-CV-3549-TWT) against the city of Lilburn, as they felt that this zoning restriction limited their religious freedom and showed favoritism for secular community centers, which could exceed five acres in size (Beasley 2009, Dec 17). The city of Lilburn presumably successfully defended against the lawsuit, as neither side commented on the case after 2010 and no reparations were ordered by the district court (Bernarde 2011, Aug 16). Additionally, the city held a community vote to decide to permit religious institutions to develop on land larger than five acres that the residents of Lilburn rejected (Beasley 2009, Dec 17). The plans for the Dar-e ‘Abbas Islamic Shi’a Center were then adjusted to comply with zoning regulations.

Second Proposal

In order to accommodate the zoning regulations, plans for Dar-e ‘Abbas Islamic Shi’a Center were scaled back not to include the cemetery and gymnasium of their original proposal in a space of 4 acres. Though the mosque’s proposal was within the guidelines of the zoning, on December 6, 2010 the Lilburn Planning Commission stated that the Mosques 20,000 square foot area worship space and 200 car parking garage would cause traffic and safety concerns (Bernarde 2011, Aug 16). Additionally, with the possibility of the mosque’s construction, citizens of Lilburn began to speak out against the mosque’s construction (Anderson 2012, Aug 10). The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that city council members were receiving emails with complaints “ranging from thoughtful ruminations on the zoning implications to concerns that Islamic terrorists were going to destroy the city” (Anderson 2012, Aug 10). The city council voted in December of 2010 to on the mosque’s second proposal, which resulted in a 2-2 decision to pass the proposal (Bernarde 2011, Aug 16). Since a majority was needed to commence with the construction, the mosque’s efforts to pass a proposal were further delayed until 2011 despite the compromises the community made on the plans and adherence to zoning ordinances.

DOJ Intervention

On August 26, 2011, the United States Department of Justice filed a formal complaint against the city of Lilburn, Georgia (Case No. 1:11-mi-99999-UNA). The eleven-paged official document first recounted the previously described proposals and subsequent rejections. The complaint was filed for two main reasons: unfair treatment of the mosque, and lack of measures to ensure adherence to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. In the twenty-seventh clause of the document, the Department of Justice notes the numerous Christian churches the City of Lilburn had approved for rezoning. They note, however, that although similarly planned and formatted, the Dar-e ‘Abbas Islamic Center was not treated in a similar manner. This lead the Department of Justice to formally accuse the City of Lilburn of discrimination on the basis of religion. Additionally, the Department of Justice noted in the twenty-eighth clause of the document, that there were no procedures or practices in place to ensure that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 was not violated (Holder 2011).

Third Proposal and Outcome

Following the Department of Justice’s intervention, the plan for the Islamic center proposed in December of 2010 was approved. A founding member of the community, Wasi Zaidi, commented, "our neighbors might be mad now, but we love them" (Fox News 2011) After seven years of fundraising, more issues arose. A proposed expansion of the parking lot part of the 2011 proposal, which would add 178 spots, sparked further debate and disagreement amongst residents of Lilburn in 2018 when the construction was finally set to begin. The Islamic Center proposed the extra 178 spots would prevent members of the community from having to park in nearby parks and lots. Lilburn resident Donna Chapman, however, brought up the issue of traffic. “Say, if we needed the police or the firemen and traffic’s in the way, they couldn’t get here,” said Chapman, in a 2018 interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Coyne 2018, Nov 15).

Last Updated

April 23, 2019

Collection

Citation

Alexander Cleveland, Ehren Fernandez, Andres Lebed Wright, “Lilburn, GA,” U.S. Mosque Controversies, accessed December 5, 2021, https://usmc.ecdsomeka.org/items/show/6.

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