Negotiations stall public hearing on proposed Naperville mosque
The Islamic Center of Naperville's plan to construct a mosque and multipurpose facility on the southwest side of town has been in a holding pattern this summer amid negotiations between project leaders and nearby residents.
The proposed development along 248th Avenue has garnered unprecedented interest from community members, hundreds of whom addressed the planning and zoning commission during a hearing that has dragged out for months. Public testimony wrapped up May 20, but the city's review process is stalled until at least next month as Islamic Center representatives attempt to reach an agreement with a group of concerned neighbors.
Plans presented in January call for constructing the religious facility in five phases over the next 40 years, starting with a 26,219-square-foot mosque and later adding an educational center, a multipurpose hall, a gymnasium and a mosque expansion.
Project leaders have reconfigured the parking lot and pledged to provide traffic control and crossing guards during peak hours to help mitigate safety and privacy concerns.
Neighbors are generally supportive of an Islamic Center facility at 3540 248th Ave., said Molly Evans and Tara McDonald, who live in the adjacent Tall Grass subdivision. But they don't believe the magnitude of the proposal -- and the potential crowds and traffic it could bring -- fits on a 13-acre parcel within a residential area.
"We welcome the diversity and the Islamic Center of Naperville to the neighborhood," McDonald said. "Our concerns are really just based on the size and scale of the current plans that we'd like to see scaled down a bit."
Ongoing talks between the group of residents -- called "Neighbors In Favor of a Neighborhood Mosque" -- and Islamic Center officials have remained respectful and responsive, Evans and McDonald said. Both sides declined to comment on the status of negotiations, which they said are confidential.
In a May 26 letter, attorney Len Monson, who represents the Islamic Center, said the two parties are "in the midst of good faith negotiations, with the goal of arriving at an amicable resolution among our clients." At the time, the case was postponed from June 2 to June 16 to allow discussions to continue.
The planning and zoning commission has since approved two more extensions, pushing back the hearing to Aug. 4.
The unexpected death of an expert witness prompted the latest request for a continuance from Daniel Shapiro, an attorney for the Tall Grass Association Board and other nearby residents. Experienced land planner Al Maiden, who died June 25, was "critical to our case," Shapiro said in a letter to the city, and though his colleague has agreed to step in, he "needs adequate time to get up to speed."
Shapiro said he and Monson intend to continue negotiations over the next few weeks. Letters from both attorneys have indicated both parties could make presentations and call on witnesses when the public hearing resumes.
"We're all trying to work toward a solution that would be good for (the Islamic Center) and that would be good for the neighbors," McDonald said.