DuPage seeks settlement with Islamic group
With DuPage County already owing $445,000 to one Islamic organization as a result of a federal lawsuit, officials are hoping to spend far less taxpayer money settling a separate legal dispute with another religious group that sued over a zoning issue.
The DuPage County Board this week reversed its position and approved Islamic Center of Western Suburbs' plans to use a house near West Chicago as a prayer center.
Mark Daniel, the attorney representing Islamic Center of Western Suburbs, called the board's decision "a step in the direction" toward resolving his client's federal lawsuit against DuPage. That suit was filed after a previous board voted in May 2012 to reject the center's application.
To settle the case, DuPage's lawyers are working to negotiate a deal that would pay an unspecified amount of money to the center.
Daniel declined to comment about how much compensation the center is seeking. County officials, however, said the amount won't be as much as another religious group already is slated to receive.
That group, Irshad Learning Center, is getting $445,000 from DuPage as part of a settlement that was reached after it successfully sued the county. In that case, a federal judge in March overturned the county board's January 2010 decision to deny a conditional-use permit for a planned Islamic education facility near Naperville.
County board member Sam Tornatore, who is chairman of the board's development committee, says his support this week of Islamic Center of Western Suburbs' request wasn't influenced by the lawsuits.
Still, he admits, it appeared unlikely DuPage could have won a legal battle with Islamic Center of Western Suburbs.
"Do I want to go back to court and spend more of the taxpayers' money defending a case which, I think, we may ultimately lose? No," said Tornatore, who is an attorney. "I don't think that's being a good steward of the taxpayers' money."
Settling the case now, he said, is "the sensible thing to do."
To address neighbors' concerns, the center must follow a list of requirements to keep its conditional-use permit, which expires in five years. The center, for example, must have annual inspections of its septic system and demonstrate to the county that the property is being properly maintained.
Meanwhile, no further action by the county board will be required in the Irshad case.
Last week, the judge ordered DuPage officials to issue a conditional-use permit so the education center can open in a former house at 25W030 75th St. near Naperville. The previous owners of the building converted it into a private school in 1994.
As for the $445,000 payment to Irshad, that money will come out of the county's budget, which has a tort liability fund.
"They (Irshad administrators) are very pleased with how things are working out," said Kevin Vodak, litigation director with the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which represented Irshad in the lawsuit.
Irshad sought money from DuPage to pay for its legal fees and expenses related to the property, which it purchased in March 2008.
Those costs include the property taxes that had to be paid since the permit was denied. The group also has been paying to rent space in a Woodridge church.
The group would like to open its facility sometime this year, according to Vodak. Most of the residents who will use the center live in Naperville and surrounding towns.