DuPage County’s board has denied a request from a developer of an incoming mosque to add a dome and minaret that would exceed the county’s 36-foot height limit. The Muslim Educational Cultural Center of America (MECCA) won approval last year to build a center in unincorporated DuPage County, near the village of Willowbrook. After that, the county amended its zoning laws to lay out the conditions of its height restrictions more clearly.
The decision in this case could have broad implications for other groups that have assembled in buildings that were built before the new zoning rules.
"Our decision today will determine how those text amendments are interpreted," warned board member Anthony Michelassi, shortly before the vote. "We have the ability to determine how this law is applied, and I would rather it be so we grant deference to religious symbols of existing places of assembly."
MECCA’s lawyer, Mark Daniels, argued that the amendments to the zoning rules included language that allows special protections for existing places of assembly, in case they wanted to modify their buildings.
"If you include the VFW halls and the other meetings hall with churches, there are probably 70 uses that are contemplated that are having the carpet pulled out from under them in the way of protection," said Daniels. "If they need to put an air conditioner on the roof, if they want to go a little bit higher for a flagpole or some other skylight perhaps — it could be any improvement on that roof. They’re basically yanking the rug out from under them by saying if you want to have that, you have to have open, landscaped areas."
Residents who live near the MECCA lot objected to the developer’s request, saying that the planned building is already too large for the site and that the additional structures would further encroach upon the views from their homes. They urged county board members to apply the new height requirements on the building. “This project does not conform to requirements and is not eligible for this relief,” said Willowbrook resident Pete Spencer.
Dr. Abdulgany Hamadeh, MECCA’s president, says he believes the board's decision on the minaret and dome is unfair, but he still intends to break ground by June. "The problem is changing the rules in the middle of the game all the time," said Hamadeh. "Had we known before that we had a height limit, had we known that we have setbacks, maybe we would have designed the building differently."
Hamadeh said there’s no way to build a minaret in compliance with the county’s 36-foot limit, but that it may be possible to build a dome on the inside of the structure under that rule.