DuPage faith groups watch minaret decision

March 13, 2012

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The DuPage County Board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether an incoming mosque may add a minaret and dome to its building plan. MECCA, the Muslim Educational Cultural Center of America, has applied for a conditional use permit to construct a 50-foot high dome and a 60-foot high minaret. The decision is being closely watched by other faith groups in the county, who are keen to see how the board will respond to requests for modifications to projects that were grandfathered in after the county changed its zoning rules. The new rules, passed in October, limit structures to 36 feet.

Last week DuPage County’s Development Committee voted neither to approve nor deny the request of MECCA’s developers, splitting evenly on the matter. Complicating the situation is the fact that MECCA is considered an “existing use” because its zoning permit was approved last year before the zoning amendments. Ground has not yet been broken on the project. County Board member Anthony Michelassi said that means MECCA’s application has to be evaluated under zoning rules that existed when it was granted its original permit.

“If we were to say to any existing religious institution, you can’t put, say, a steeple on top of your building because then you’d have to start lopping off parts of your building elsewhere,” said Michelassi. “That would go completely against the spirit of the text amendments to begin with.”

Several residents of a housing development next to the MECCA property in unincorporated Willowbrook spoke at the committee meeting to express their opposition to the minaret and dome. Diana Cornett, who lives in the property closest to the site, said she and her neighbors have compromised on their ideals to come to peace with the idea of a large assembly space going up next to their relatively quiet and secluded homes. She said that adding the tall structures would be an even greater imposition on her suburban surroundings.

“It’s just seeing that much more of a building that we really don’t want to see anymore of,” said Cornett. “And it would be the same if Wal-Mart wanted to build a building and they wanted to add another whole story to it.”