Once-approved Willowbrook mosque now in peril
A Muslim group planning to build a mosque near Willowbrook has less than 10 days to demolish an existing house on the site and begin the new construction — otherwise the project is a no-go.
That's because a permit approved by the county board is set to expire, and per county rules, construction must begin in that time period.
On Tuesday, the board refused to grant another extension that the group says would have allowed them more time to secure building permits and begin erection of the 47,000-square-foot mosque on almost 5 acres along 91st Street near Route 83.
Still, a lawyer representing the Muslim Educational and Cultural Center says he's confident construction will be under way this week.
"Typically planning for projects of this size takes quite a bit of time," said Mark Daniel, an Elmhurst attorney who represents MECCA.
When the board approved the mosque in March 2011, it came with the caveat that the permit would be valid for a year. MECCA later sought a one-year extension — the maximum allowable amount of extra time — but was granted three months.
That extension is set to expire June 22.
Daniel said there's been a lot of off-site work taking place since the project was approved, such as civil engineering, right of way evaluation and architectural design. MECCA also waited to submit its building plans to the county until after the county adopted a set of zoning law changes last October that could have allowed the installation of a 60-foot minaret.
Still, the board denied that request, in deference to neighbors who opposed the height of the minaret.
MECCA already has a building permit from Downers Grove Township, and is currently awaiting a county building permit, which would allow construction to begin, Daniel said.
Paul Hoss, the county's zoning coordinator, said he expects the final permit will be issued Wednesday, once MECCA submits a letter of credit and pays applicable fees.
"If they can't get the supports in the ground by June 22, then technically their conditional use expires and they can no longer have zoning to put a religious institution on that property," Hoss said. "They'd have to go through the zoning process again."
Board members voted 9-7 to deny MECCA's request for a one-month time extension, setting up a hurried time frame to get the necessary approvals and for construction crews to begin their work.
"Fifteen months is more than enough time to move this forward," said county board member John Curran. "On the front end they wasted an awful lot of time. Our rules mean something."
Development Committee Chairman Tony Michelassi disagreed.
"If things aren't going the way in the engineering and permitting of the property, you could have the rug pulled out from under you because we don't like how long the project is taking you — I don't like the message that's sending," he said.
Once construction begins, MECCA officials have estimated it will take about two years to complete.
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