DuPage County mosque plan clears hurdle
A Muslim group narrowly picked up a key endorsement in its long-running quest to use a house near West Chicago as a small mosque.
The DuPage County Board's development committee voted 3-2 Tuesday to recommend that Islamic Center of Western Suburbs receive a conditional-use permit that would allow the home at 28W774 Army Trail Road to be transformed into a religious institution.
The full board is expected to make a final vote next week.
"I think that it's very important that we uphold the law outside of emotion," said Michael Ledonne, who voted to approve the request with fellow board members Grant Eckhoff and Tony Michelassi. "In terms of zoning law, I can't find any issues (with the petition)."
The Islamic group withdrew a previous application nearly a year ago after making changes to the proposal. For example, the group is no longer seeking an exception to front- and side-yard setback rules. It also is offering to comply with various restrictions, including a new one that limits the facility to no more than 30 worshippers per day.
"This is a small use," said Mark Daniel, the attorney representing the center. "It does fit the area. There's nothing at this particular location that makes the use impossible."
Still, the county's zoning board of appeals last month rejected the revised plan. And two county board members -- Rita Gonzalez and Dirk Enger -- voted against the conditional-use request on Tuesday.
Enger pointed to the fact that the county health department has said the home's existing septic system can't support a religious use with more than 30 worshippers per day.
He questioned whether the county could enforce a daily limit on the number of worshippers.
"Who is going to be responsible for watching who comes through a door?" said Enger, adding that he's worried about having too many people regularly using a septic system designed for one family. "How are we going to have any oversight on this?"
Meanwhile, neighbors opposing the plan reminded development committee members about how the group at one time operated the house out-of-code as a worship center, despite citations from the county.
Shortly after buying the home in 2008, the center made landscaping changes to the property to create parking for the worshippers, who arrived five times a day.
However, the house isn't being used now. And supporters say they need the proposed worship space because no other site exists nearby.
Joseph Abel, a planning and zoning consultant representing the center, stressed that the proposed use isn't a traditional mosque. He said it would be more like a prayer center.
"This is not a mosque that handles all of the religious activities that take place in a mosque," Abel said, adding that only five daily prayers would happen there.
Still, neighbors voiced concerns about the possibility of flooding, lower property values and increased traffic. They stress that the house was built to be home for a family -- not a religious institution.
"They (Islamic Center members) said that they used to worship in their own homes until they outgrew it to the point where it became unacceptable for them and their neighbors," neighbor Kevin Wiley said. "That's the traffic that they want to move into our backyards."
A consultant hired by the center said Army Trail Road should be able to handle the traffic created by the facility. Real estate appraiser Michael MaRous said the proposed use should not harm the neighborhood and wouldn't diminish the value of nearby land and buildings.
In October, the county adopted a new set of zoning law changes that, in part, prohibit groups from converting single-family houses into a places of assembly.
But the new rules don't apply to projects already being reviewed, including Islamic Center of Western Suburbs.