Islamic center tries for appeal in DuPage County
A Muslim group seeking to use a house near West Chicago as a religious institution is hoping that new information about the site's septic system and surrounding property values will persuade DuPage County to support the proposal.
But opponents are urging DuPage's zoning board of appeals to stand by its December decision to reject Islamic Center of Western Suburbs' petition for a conditional-use permit.
"I think the earlier decision should stand," said Constance Gavras of South Elgin. "This has been going on forever."
Neighbors said they were "stunned" and "disappointed" when the county board's development committee last month directed the zoning board take another look at the request to use the single-family home at 28W774 Army Trail Road as a prayer center.
On Monday night, zoning board Chairman Robert Kartholl acknowledged that it is "uncommon" for the panel to reconsider a petition that it has rejected. Still, a public hearing was reopened because of new evidence and then continued to March 14.
"It is not lost on me that this represents a significant inconvenience" for members of the public, Kartholl said. "In order to be fair to both sides, we need to have everybody review whatever additional information is being considered and then comment as necessary on that additional information."
In the meantime, the house is operating out-of-code as a worship center, despite citations from the county.
Shortly after buying the home in 2008, Islamic Center of Western Suburbs began making landscaping changes to the property to create parking for the worshippers, who arrive five times a day. Supporters say they need the proposed worship space because no other site exists nearby.
When the zoning panel voted 6-1 against issuing a conditional-use permit, members cited several reasons, including concerns about flooding. Some zoning board members said they were worried about the possibility of having roughly 30 people regularly using a septic system designed for one family.
Now a letter from the county health department indicates that the home's existing septic system is capable of supporting a religious use with 30 worshippers. And Kevin Gallaher, the center's attorney, said he plans to submit an appraisal report challenging neighbors' claims that their property values will decrease.
Resident Kevin Wiley is taking the opportunity to introduce additional evidence of his own. Wiley is trying to prove that the prayer center would be used by more than 30 people during special events.
"They are not going to limit it to 30 people," Wiley said. "Anybody who thinks that they will is just fooling themselves."
The zoning panel's recommendation is significant because it helps county board members decide whether to approve the request for a conditional-use permit. The county board development committee must review the plan before it goes to the full county board for a final decision.