By Charles Sercombe
It’s back to the drawing board for those wishing to open a mosque at the northwest corner of Jos. Campau and Caniff.
At the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Wednesday evening, the board rejected a redesign of the building.
Technically the request is called a “variance” of the city’s zoning laws. The new design of the building did not meet the minimum requirement for the building to have at least 70 percent of the front be windows. The new design also would have covered up some of the second floor windows – another no-no in the city’s zoning requirements.
Those who are behind the Al-Islah Islamic Center on Caniff, around the corner from the Jos. Campau-Caniff site, have already received a variance to move their Islamic center to the new location, which had been zoned strictly for commercial use on the ground floor and residential on the upper story.
As a religious institution, the building is tax-exempt. Prior to the new zoning variance, the city collected about $8,000 a year in property taxes.
At the zoning board meeting, there were those speaking for and against the design variance.
Held in the city council chamber, the room was filled with mostly men in support of the mosque.
First to speak was the owner of Stan’s Groceries, Jolanta Cieslawska. She complained that worshippers from the Islamic center on Caniff, located around the corner from the new mosque, take up parking spaces near her store for two or three hours a day.
She said her customers are complaining that they cannot find parking spaces.
“For me it’s dangerous,” Cieslawska said. “If I can’t pay taxes my business will be done.”
Abdo Hussain of Andrus St. said he found Cieslawska’s claim “sad” because the afternoon prayer is for only 30 minutes.
He also said the community should be complaining about bars that “bring bad people” and crime.
Bill Meyer of Trowbridge St. said the zoning board and the community should realize that Hamtramck’s population is now 60 percent Muslim.
“It’s something we have to recognize,” he said.
He said that opposition to the design of the mosque is really about being “anti-Muslim.” He blamed The Review for fanning the flames of anti-Muslim bias.
Meyer also credited the Muslim community for “repopulating” the city.
Joan Barrios of Holbrook St. said she has nothing against Muslims but questioned the need for so many mosques.
(Editor’s note: There are nine mosques in Hamtramck and the neighboring areas).
“Now every time we turn around there’s a new mosque,” Barrios said.
She also said that the city’s commercial district should be reserved for business.
“This bothers me because it’s the biggest intersection in the city,” Barrios said.
During the zoning board’s discussion, Chairman Steve Cherry said he was trying to find a “hardship” angle that would allow a variance, but he said he couldn’t think of one.
He said the center’s applicant essentially “just doesn’t want to comply” with the city’s zoning requirements.
Boardmember Nasr Hussain took exception with that, saying since the city allowed murals to be painted on the sides of some buildings, the board should allow this request.
Cherry said that there is no comparison between the two because the city does not prohibit art murals from being created on commercial buildings.
Hussain then questioned if Cherry would prefer to keep the building as it is. Cherry said the decision has to be based on what’s allowed.
Hussain said that the board should consider the possibility that requiring at least 70 percent of the building’s front to be windows a risk. He said there could be someone who is anti-Muslim who will break the windows.
In the vote to allow the design variance, the board denied the request, with boardmembers Cherry, Andrew Biscaglio, Mark Hausner and Alan Ferszt voting for the denial and boardmembers Hussain and Mohammed Rahman voting in opposition.
(Boardmember John Gray Kales was absent and boardmember Mohamed Delawar Hussain abstained because he has been helping the Islamic center set up its new location.)