Hearing on Carmel mosque continues Monday

An artist's rendering shows the proposed mosque in Carmel.

CARMEL, Ind. (WTHR) — Monday night, the Board of Zoning Appeals in Carmel continues a hearing on an Islamic Center proposed for the city's west side.

January's hearing at the Monon Center drew such a large crowd that 100 people had to be turned away. That's why Monday's hearing, scheduled for 6 p.m., has been moved to the 1,600-seat Palladium.

It's a contentious issue with strong feelings on both sides and some misinformation as well. The BZA is not deciding whether to allow a mosque on the five-acre site at 141st Street and Shelborne Road. Worship centers of any kind are already allowed in residential areas. The issue with the Islamic Life Center is whether the plans are in sync with zoning requirements.

The City of Carmel has received hundreds of letters and emails on the proposed mosque, 607 in favor of it and 422 against.

Eyewitness News sifted through scores of them. Most of the opponents cited concerns about noise, traffic, lighting and the impact on property values.

They included, "the amount of cars and people coming and going...would be a nightmare for our community."

Another person wrote, "trying to squeeze a large, non-residential building on the property in addition to parking is crazy," while someone else suggested, "there are plenty of pieces of property further north," and another, "we moved here so we could have a peaceful place to live. Please do not destroy that."

A few opponents were clearly anti-Muslim.

One person wrote, "it is very likely it will draw people from terrorist countries...this proposed community may place risk to the local as well as national security."

Another wondered "if it may attract foreign feet to the area" and if some who join the center will "bring radical Islam."

Comments in favor included, "the proposal fits well with the community," and "the diversity of our population enriches the lives of all," as well as "there are many churches all around west Carmel...It is unreasonable to deny Muslims a place to worship."

One supporter who urged the board to "accommodate the building," added, "I am certain this isn't an easy one for you."

Since the January hearing, the Al-Salam Foundation has made several changes to plan. The Islamic Center has been reduced from a total of 28,000 square feet to 18,000. The height of the light poles have been lowered and a six-foot high fence with new landscaping added to the residential property line on the west side.

The city also provided a comparison of the mosque with several other worship centers in Carmel, including the new church going up on Shelborne, two miles south of the mosque.

Information provided by City of Carmel
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The St. Mary and St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church is on 5.57 acre site, the mosque on 4.66 acres. The church building is just over 8,657-square feet with the mosque now 18,000-square feet. The church has has 131 parking spots, the mosque 102. Both are adjacent to a neighborhood development with the church across from a school.

According to the mayor's office, the city didn't receive a single letter or hear from anyone objecting to the church.

While the prayer services at the mosque would be Fridays from 1 p.m. until 2:30 p.m., the St. Mary and St.Mark's website shows services at the current site four times a week, several times a day.

City planners have recommended the board of zoning appeals approve the plan but spokesman for the city chances are a final vote will not come until March.

The only way to appeal the board's decision is to file a lawsuit, which seems likely no matter what the outcome is.

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