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updated: 4/4/2014 11:14 AM

Des Plaines aldermen dropped from suit alleging religious discrimination

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Five Des Plaines aldermen who voted last year against plans for a Bosnian Islamic center have been dropped as defendants in a lawsuit alleging they violated rights to religious freedom.

The American Islamic Center sued the city of Des Plaines and Aldermen James Brookman, Michael Charewicz, Patricia Haugeberg, Dick Sayad and Mark Walsten last September, but a federal judge recently ruled that the aldermen are entitled to legislative immunity.

The AIC, meanwhile, will be able to continue its lawsuit against the city of Des Plaines.

The council voted 5-3 last July against a proposed zoning change that would have allowed the AIC to convert two connected one-story office buildings at 1645 Birchwood Ave. into a prayer hall/community center. AIC officials said they contracted to buy the property in February 2013 on the condition the city would adopt a zoning map amendment that would allow use of property for religious and educational activities.

The 1.8-acre site, currently zoned for manufacturing use, was previously occupied by an insurance company but has remained vacant for about three years.

Lawyers for the AIC had argued the aldermen were acting in an administrative -- not legislative -- function, and as a result, violated the plaintiffs' religious freedom rights.

But U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly wrote in a March 24 opinion that the council engaged in legislative actions. "There is no question that the denial of the proposed zoning amendment had its most direct and immediate impact on AIC. But the impact of the denial was not limited to AIC," Kennelly wrote. "It also affected the property's owner, who lost the opportunity to sell the property to AIC. In addition, the property that AIC wished to buy will remain zoned for manufacturing activity regardless of who comes to own it, unless and until the city council amends the zoning map.

"For these reasons, the city council's actions are properly characterized as legislative, not executive or administrative."

Tony Peraica, a Chicago attorney representing the AIC, said Wednesday his clients don't plan to appeal the ruling but are confident they'll win their case against the city. They're still seeking to buy the vacant property on Birchwood Avenue if they can obtain the necessary zoning change.

The city's attorneys have until April 7 to file an answer to remaining claims in the lawsuit.

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