Sterling Heights, MI–The American Islamic Community Center (AICC) met at the Sterling Heights City Hall last week for the City Planning Commission to vote on the special approval land use for plans for building a new mosque.
Many Sterling Heights residents showed up, filling not only the meeting room, but the outside vestibule as well. According to the planning commission, it was the most people they’ve ever had at any meeting. “What I want to say about this item, because there are many people here of course for this item, is that this is a land use matter. This matter deals with the layout of the site, traffic, setbacks, all of those kinds of things are what’s related to a special approval land use … No consideration will be given to a religious affiliation, or ethnicity of the people proposed to occupy this facility,” said planning Commissioner Gerald Rowe, who was leading this meeting.
This vote requires five members to vote yes out of the nine total members. Rowe added, “Therefore the commission respectfully asks that you limit your comments to the issues of land use matters … The commission will not except any comments related to religious affiliation, or ethnicity of the people proposed to occupy this facility. I might add that any such comments will deemed as inappropriate, and you will be ruled out of order.” Rowe did have to remind commenters quite a few times to stay within the framework.
City Planner Donald Mende then spoke to the commission on the details of the proposed site plans, including details such as land acreage and building and structure details. He also provided an artist’s rendering of the proposed inside and outside of the mosque.
The location of the proposed site within the city of Sterling Heights is between Hatherly Place and Davidson Drive, two residential streets off of 15 Mile Rd., in between Ryan and Mound. Since the current location is zoned as R60 residential, the proposer of this site, Jafer Chehab, AICC board member, did make the land usage request for a one family residential. The land currently consists of five parcels of land that will be combined into one for the mosque. Mende noted that the Sterling Heights zoning ordinance does permit group worship in the R60 one family zooming district, and is subject to the special approval land use.
Mende noted places of worship are given this special approval land use, which means that they are permitted with a matter of right, with no special reviews, no special conditions or requirements. However, they do require special review by this planning commission, known as the special approval land use process. “All forms of group warship, whether it be a church, a mosque, a synagogue, a temple, a Jehovah’s Witness Hall, have to be reviewed in this fashion,” added Mende.
Many residents shared concerns over the traffic that this will bring to this busy intersection, even though the entrance and exit of the proposed mosque sits a half-mile away from it. Mende did share statics that though 15-mile road is a busy intersection, its usage is average with other major roads, and under most when compared to those nearby. Accidents on that intersection have decreased annually since 2011, with them mostly being low-impact, such as rear-ending and sideswipes. In Mende’s presentation to the commission, he discussed details such as lot coverage, parking accommodations, etc., having all been met above city standards. Chehab, the site proposer, then presented his background plans to the commission, including information about the AICC. Then came time for the city residents to speak. Since there were so many people, each presenter was now given a three-minute time limit.
Many residents did choose to speak, so much so that it ended up taking over two and a half hours just to get through each person. They each voiced his or her concern, which was echoed by one resident after another. They all worried over the proposed site being placed in a residential area. Many residents who reside on the Hatherly neighborhood did say that they bought their homes because of the privacy of the tree-lined homes. If any large building comes in, whether it is a mosque, or a church, most said, it would then take that privacy away, especially with the trees having to be cut down.
Many residents asked why the AICC choose to build a brand new center in a high traffic, residential area when there are many empty buildings and lots throughout the city of Sterling Heights. Not all, but a good amount of residents did say that they would feel the same way if it were a mosque, a church, or even a apartment complex that were building brand new, quiet, residential in this area. There were a few uninformed individuals who were still unaware of true Islam and made racist remarks as to why they were against this proposal. Commissioner Rowe quickly stopped them and warned them of being asked to leave.
Another voiced concern is that property values tend to go down when a mosque comes in, referencing what happened in the city of Hamtramck. In the end, after so many residents each gave reasons as to why they did not want this mosque to be in that location, the planning commission said that they would not be coming to a vote that night. Rather they requested two weeks to be able to study and research everyone’s concerns. They plan to return and vote on this proposal at their next meeting to be held on September 10th.