Carmel zoning board approves mosque proposal

Hundreds of residents attended a meeting at the Palladium Monday night.
Zoning approved for mosque construction
Mosque zoning approved
Debate over mosque zoning
Hearing set for Carmel mosque
Carmel Islamic Video
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CARMEL, Ind. (WTHR) - "Pleased and relieved."

That's how Al-Salam Foundation's Ashhar Madni said he was feeling after a zoning appeals board approved plans for a mosque on Carmel's west side.

The 3-to-2 vote came Monday night after a hearing that lasted five hours. The mosque is planned for a five-acre site, currently a field, at the northwest corner of 141st St. and Shelborne Rd.

Nearly 200 people spoke at the hearing - 88 for and 88 against - but the five-member BZA voted without comment. Eyewitness News reached out to each member via email and phone calls, seeking to ask what factored into their vote, but no one responded.

Mayor Jim Brainard did offer a response.

"I was pleased to see the process work. The BZA carefully listened to all sides and made the right decision based on the zoning rules we have for this type of use in a residential area. The tone of the arguments were primarily based on things we hear all the time, traffic, lighting, parking. This was not a matter of concern about Al Salam, they have always been welcomed. Carmel is known for its cultural diversity and we are proud of that."

While the mosque got the okay to move forward, there are contingencies. Al Salam needs to raise the money to build it and though Madni did not provide an exact figure, he said land acquisition and construction would easily run a couple million dollars. Also, construction must begin within three years and the commitments made regarding the project must remain as is in order for a building permit to be issued.

The one thing that could slow or halt the project is a lawsuit by opponents challenging the BZA decision. Eyewitness News reached out to an attorney representing several residents opposed to the mosque but never heard back.

Asked about the possibility of a lawsuit, Madni said, "the lawsuit is up to them. The legal process is open to everyone."

For now, he said supporters are focused on fundraising.

"We are confident we can raise the money (needed). We've always met our goals."

EARLIER STORY:

The Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals approved a proposal to build a mosque in the city with a 3-2 vote Monday night.

The vote came at the end of a meeting that lasted more than five hours, with about 200 residents getting a minute to speak on the issue. The meeting was moved to the Palladium due to overwhelming interest in the topic.

The board was deciding whether the plans for the Islamic Life Center are in sync with zoning requirements. The proposal is for the mosque to be built on five acres at 141st Street and Shelborne Road.

Most of those opposed say it's because of concerns about increased traffic, light and noise. Since the original proposal, the Al Salam Foundation, which wants to build the mosque, has reduced the building's square footage, lowered the heights of outside light poles and added a privacy fence on the west side of the property.

People for and against the proposal spoke at Monday's meeting.

"People can pray wherever they want but I want to preserve my house for my children that I bought so they can live there," said a man who spoke in opposition.

"As a Muslim mother, I want my kids to go to a place of worship regularly if they want to," said another woman.

"It's not that I don't like my neighbors. It's not that I'm being hateful, but I oppose the spread of Islam as a Christian," a male resident said.

"I don't have a permanent place to pray. I don't have a permanent place to pray that isn't in an office building. I don't have a permanent place to pray with enough space to gather with friends. I don't have a permanent place to pray where I don't hear a highway in the background," said Ali Hassan of Zionsville.

"Opposition is never about religion, not about intolerance or fear. To suggest so is insulting. This is about site sustainability and transparency of plans," said Michelle Pellicone of Carmel.

Ahead of the hearing, the Muslim Alliance of Indiana and the Indiana Muslim Advocacy Network sponsored a video featuring Carmel's Muslim community and their contributions to the city.

The video asks, "How do you see me?" before showing the many faces of local residents who follow the Islamic faith.

It ends with, "from Carmel Muslims, with love."

The mosque proposal has been divisive with strong feelings on both sides.

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