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posted: 7/16/2013 12:01 AM

Des Plaines committee rejects rezoning property to allow Islamic center

Officials say Islamic center needs to find different site

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The Des Plaines City Council's community development committee Monday night rejected a Bosnian Muslim group's request to allow a religious center in a part of town zoned for manufacturing.

The American Islamic Center proposed converting two connected one-story office buildings at 1645 Birchwood Ave., into a prayer hall/community center with classrooms, areas for performing arts, offices and eating space. For that, the city would have to change the existing zoning of the 1.8-acre property from general manufacturing to institutional zoning where places of worship are permitted. The site was previously occupied by an insurance company but has remained vacant for some time, officials said.

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City Senior Planner Scott Mangum said the plan commission recommended approval of the zoning map amendment.

Mangum said the building capacity can accommodate 180 worshippers, which exceeds the requirements of the congregation whose membership is 160 people. He added, the site has adequate parking, 118 spaces, for the center's anticipated use, which would be heavier during Friday afternoon congregational prayers. There also is sufficient on-street parking to handle any overflow of cars, which at peak time could require roughly 145 spaces.

The city's comprehensive plan calls for the property to be zoned for mixed residential use in future, he added.

Aldermen expressed concern over how the increase in traffic could affect neighboring manufacturing businesses, and about the loss of property tax revenue from the parcel if it was zoned for a religious purpose.

"Whenever anything is taken off the tax rolls, we all have to put that back in," 4th Ward Alderman Dick Sayad said.

The property generated $95,000 in property taxes in 2013, City Finance Director Dorothy Wisniewski said.

Fifth Ward Alderman Jim Brookman said he has heard from a neighboring manufacturing business owner who was concerned about the center's traffic conflicting with delivery trucks.

Resident John Milstead said the city should be mindful of not repeating the situation faced by neighbors of the Islamic Community Center of Des Plaines on Potter Road, where overflow parking during Friday prayers has irked many neighbors.

"The place is going to grow," he said. "They all grow and sooner or later it will impound most parking on the street."

American Islamic Center spokesman Ermin Arslanagic of Palatine said the center won't attract the same type of crowds as the Potter Road mosque. The site also is 1,300 feet away from the closest residential property, he said.

"We are a membership-based ethnic community," he said, adding that 95 percent of the members are refugees who came to the U.S. after the Bosnian civil war in the 1990s.

Members also hail from a range of professions including engineers, plumbers, electricians, trucking and other business owners.

"Des Plaines for us is a very central location," Arslanagic said.

Arslanagic said while there will be some negative impact with the loss of taxes from the property, the center will attract new residents and businesses to Des Plaines.

The Des Plaines location would have been the sixth Bosnian Islamic center in the region with other centers located in Northbrook, two in Chicago, and one in the Southwest suburbs.

"We are a fairly stable community," Arslanagic said. "We want our children to have learning about old culture, learning the language, our history and culture."

Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Walsten said while the city has embraced diversity of all kinds, the center needs to find a more appropriate location where zoning won't be an issue.

The vote was 5-3 to reject the zoning change.

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