Islamic prayer center faces zoning battle

July 13, 2010 4:31:51 AM PDT
Muslim leaders in the western suburbs want to keep using a house as a prayer center and food pantry.The Islamic Center of Western Suburbs is located on Army Trail Road near West Chicago. However, some who live near the site want the group to stop using the house for anything other than a residence.

A zoning hearing was under way Monday night.

Neighbors who are against the proposed zoning change say religion has nothing to do with it; they simply don't want a commercial venture of any sort in their residential area.

But members of the Islamic Center say they need a place for daily prayer and are hoping the zoning board in DuPage county will allow them that right.

"They've been told, no, they can't operate there, and do it anyway. Nothing stops them," said neighbor Jackie Sitkiewcz.

"It's just not the place for it. If they want to have a mosque, that's fine and wonderful. And people are religious. That's a good thing, any religion, Baptist, Lutheran, whatever," neighbor Ray Sitkiewcz said.

The Sitkiewcz family has owned their property for more than three decades . They say they like the area because it's quiet and somewhat remote and private. However, they say that changed almost two years ago when members of the Islamic Center bought the house in front of them and started using it for daily prayer services. Members visit the home up to five times a day for 15-minute prayer periods and often block the driveway, according to the Sitkiewcz family.

Mr. and Mrs. Sitkiewcz say they also are concerned about flooding issues because of parking lot construction, as well as possible property values.

"This is not about religion. Please feel free to worship in the area, but do it in a place where you have proper zoning," resident Ron Cwik said at the Monday night hearing.

"I oppose with every fiber in my body. There are five churches within three miles of where I live. There's 1,000 different alternatives," said neighbor Paul Ciolino.

Islamic leaders admit they have already been using the house for prayer and as a food pantry without permission. However, they vow to be good neighbors who will follow the rules.

"There is no other facility to pray, to my knowledge, within 15 or 20 minutes of this," the Islamic Center's Mohsin Bhally said.

"The fact that this group outgrew doing it in somebody's home and sought a facility that could accommodate more people than you can accommodate in your living room, is kind of the genesis of this problem," said Kevin Gallaher, Islamic Center attorney. "We think we have a good solution where we can accommodate the concerns of the neighbors and the county. "

Monday's hearing got under way at the government center in DuPage County. While the zoning board was hearing testimony, they were likely only to offer a recommendation. The final decision will be made by the full county board sometime around September.


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