Were Questions Inappropriate for Developers Building Mosque at Eagle Elementary?
Wetland Review Board schedules site visit, Planning Commission hears concerns from community and faces charges of Islamophobia from activist organizer.
Because of issues surrounding the construction of a mosque and community center on the former Eagle Elementary School site at 14 Mile and Middlebelt in West Bloomfield, an Islamic activist organizer has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to monitor the situation.
Council on American-Islamic Relations of Michigan (CAIR-MI) executive director Dawud Walid cited an inappropriateness in concerns raised by commissioner Jim Manna during a planning commission hearing Tuesday. Walid compared the situation to that in Pittsfield Township last year, in which CAIR-MI alleged discrimination by that township's government.
Nabil Suliman, a member of the ICA, provided information and fielded questions about the project Tuesday. He explained that the property purchased for $1.1 million had been paid through fundraising efforts over the past year, since Ramadan, by a large, local Muslim population and not the 150 adult congregants he claimed would initially use the mosque.
Manna asked whether or not Suliman would accept $1 million for the project from Saudi Arabia, to which Suliman replied he would not.
"I’m not sure that (Manna) understands his responsibilities and what type of potential question marks can be brought up in this case," Walid said. "It’s very simple: from our experience in dealing with zoning cases, boards should be asking specific questions relating to modifications of property and traffic and that nature.
"Questions relating to organizations relating to where they get their funding and who their affiliated with have no valid decision-making on zoning."
Manna defended his line of questioning immediately after the meeting: "With all due respect, when we look at the world, we've got every right to ask these questions. It's an emotional issue, where the money is coming from."
Concerns over sustainable funding were heard both during the planning commission's inquiries surrounding the projected cost of the proposal as well as a length public comment portion of the meeting, dominated by those speaking against the ICA.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, it had been further suggested that the few congregants could afford an endeavor estimated by Suliman to cost between $5 million and $6 million once completed.
"It boggles my mind. This must be some kind of new math to be able to predict that that kind of membership can sustain such a building after it has already been built," said Doreen Weisberg of West Bloomfield, adding that an independent study she conducted indicated the unfeasible cost when compared to other area houses of worship.
The issue was tabled to another joint meeting scheduled for Oct. 23. Chair Karmen Santourian said that the delay was owed to both a lack of the water management system as well as pending litigation in U.S. Appeals Court. A lawsuit brought by Farmington School District residents, currently under appeal, is expected to be back in court on Sept. 12.
Walid said that while the ICA is not being represented in any capacity by CAIR-MI and that no litigation appeared imminent, that he may change his mind if the commission's vote appeared influenced by religious or racial prejudice.
Patch local editor Joni Hubred-Golden contributed to this report.