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updated: 8/18/2011 10:15 AM

Islamic group seeks exception to DuPage height rules

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  • Muslim Educational and Cultural Center of America is making another attempt to get a height variance from DuPage County so the mosque the group plans to build near Willowbrook can have a dome and minaret.

      Muslim Educational and Cultural Center of America is making another attempt to get a height variance from DuPage County so the mosque the group plans to build near Willowbrook can have a dome and minaret.
    Artist rendering


A group planning to construct a mosque near Willowbrook is making another attempt to convince DuPage County to waive its height regulations so the future building can have its distinctive dome and minaret.

Meanwhile, a collection of Islamic organizations in the Chicago area is calling on DuPage to consider modifying a 36-foot height restriction in unincorporated residential neighborhoods to make the rule "more accepting" of religious design elements.

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The Muslim Educational and Cultural Center of America is one of two Islamic groups to be denied a height variance request this year by DuPage.

County board members granted MECCA's request for a conditional-use permit so it can build a roughly 47,000-square-foot mosque along 91st Street near Route 83. But in a separate action, they refused to give the group permission to exceed the height restriction of 36 feet so it could have a 69-foot dome and 79-foot minaret.

Mark Daniel, an Elmhurst-based attorney representing MECCA, said the group has reapplied for a shorter 50-foot dome and 60-foot minaret. A public hearing on the new height variance request is scheduled for November.

"They're entitled to a variance," Daniel said on Wednesday. "They do have a situation where there's both practical difficulty and particular hardship."

Board members who opposed the height variance said MECCA representatives failed to show the denial would result in a legal hardship.

It was the same reason board members cited last month when they denied a height variance for a second Islamic group. Muslim Community Association of the Western Suburbs still is hoping to get county approval to build a mosque along the south side of Roosevelt Road, just east of I-355, near Lombard. But the mosque -- Pin Oak Community Center -- won't be allowed to have a roughly 50-foot-tall dome.

Daniel, who also represents Muslim Community Association, said that group hasn't decided how it will respond to the rejection of its height variance request. However, Daniel said the group doesn't see any basis for why DuPage would deny the variance.

"When they look around the county and see how many religious uses exceed 36 feet, it's very difficult for them to accept that they cannot have an element of their building rise above 36 feet," Daniel said. "The peaks of some of these religious uses can rise pretty high."

DuPage officials said the height limit for residential areas was adopted in 2005. Since that time, the county hasn't allowed any variances for religious uses, they said.

Building height exceptions is one issue county officials are addressing as they work through a proposed set of zoning law amendments that would apply to new religious facilities in residential neighborhoods. But those text amendments aren't expected to be approved until the end of the year.

In the meantime, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago this week issued a statement claiming that legal experts have questioned the method DuPage used to adopt its existing height limit. The council said the "potentially illegally adopted" restriction violates state law and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Daniel said that's why he believes MECCA can prove a legal hardship when it makes its renewed push for a height variance.

"The fact that they have an illegal ordinance that they are trying to enforce is clearly a hardship," he said.

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