By Charles Sercombe
Acting City Manager Kyle Tertzag said it doesn’t make any sense to allow a religious center to take up prime real estate.
He was commenting on the proposed Islamic center that plans to locate in a building at the northwest corner of Jos. Campau and Caniff – the very center of the city’s business district.
“In most successful communities you don’t have religious institutions as part of your downtown,” Tertzag said.
Religious centers are exempt from paying property taxes, which is one of the main revenue sources that communities rely on to provide basic services, such as police and fire protection.
It’s unclear if there are legal actions that can be taken to prevent the center from operating in the city’s main business district. The city’s Zoning Board approved the center. The Zoning Board members include: Andrew Biscoglia, John Kales, Steven Cherry, Mark Hausner, Mohamed Delwar Hussain, Nasr Hussain, Alan Fertz (alternate), Mohammed Rahman (alternate) and Jason Friedmann.
There will be three Islamic centers operating on that block. And that has more than just city officials talking about this development.
Loretta Gubin of Belmont St. said she is exploring a legal challenge, saying the city can’t afford to allow religious centers to operate in commercial buildings.
“It’s tax-exempt, and it’s taking away business from this city,” she said. “How many buildings do they need in a two-mile radius?”
Supporters of the mosque, who spoke recently at the city’s Plan Commission, say religious centers attract new residents and spur business growth.
The Al-Islah Islamic Center on Caniff plans on moving into the building at Caniff and Jos. Campau.
Abdul Motlib, an Imam at the center, told the Plan Commission last week that on average, only 10 or 15 people will be in the center six days out of the week. On Fridays, he said, about 200 worshipers will be at the center.
But before that happens, the center first has to get the OK from the Zoning Board for a façade design that does not comply with the city’s regulations.
The city requires buildings in the commercial zone that get a variance of use or wish to get a façade upgrade to have at least 70 percent of the façade be windows.
The requirements also says that windows on the upper floors must remain. The design plan for the mosque covers up the upper windows and falls short of the window ratio on the façade.
The Zoning Board will next meet on Feb. 6.