County Board tables vote on Islamic center

The DuPage County Board Tuesday unanimously tabled a vote on settling a dispute over the construction of an Islamic center near Naperville.

The move also puts off the final settlement of a lawsuit Irshad Learning Center filed after the board in 2010 denied them a permit to build a worship center and Saturday school on three acres on 75th Street just east of Naperville. That vote came in the wake of neighbors protesting that the center would affect their quality of life and their property values by increasing traffic and noise.

The group’s suit charged that the board’s ruling violated their rights under the First and 14th amendments (free exercise of religion and equal protection clause).

Federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer of the Northern District of Illinois ruled March 29 that the board had improperly denied the group’s request for the permit.

The County Board’s vote scheduled for Tuesday was thought to be a formality, with the board expected to OK the conditional use permit and agreeing to pay an unspecified amount of damages to compensate the group for its legal fees and expenses.

Tabling the issue means the DuPage County state’s attorney will go back to Pallmeyer for clarification on how to proceed in reaching the settlement that everyone seems to agree is inevitable.

“My understanding is that they wanted further clarification,” Kevin Vodak, of the Council on American Islamic Relations, said about the County Board.

DuPage state’s attorney spokesman Paul Darrah declined to comment on the matter, only saying that the next court date is June 25.

DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin stressed that there was no disagreement over the fundamentals of the settlement, only the process.

Several board members feel the judge’s ruling violates the concept of separation of powers between distinct branches of government.

Cronin is confident that the issue will be resolved.

“We all agree with the final resolution,” he said. “There is no dispute about financial issues.”

Board members have interpreted Pallmeyer’s decision as a directive to hold another vote on the matter and reach a different decision, their individual convictions notwithstanding.

“It is a separation of powers issue,” board member Bob Larson said, stressing that the ruling could be interpreted to be the judicial branch of government telling the legislative how to vote. “That’s a sham … I can’t do that.”

Larson also said that if another vote was forced by the court, it would have the effect of cutting the community out of a process that should be open to public comment.

Board member Tony Michelassi voted to approve the conditional use permit in 2010, but Tuesday voted with his colleagues to table the issue.

“It’s a weird situation,” he said after the vote.

He noted that judges routinely rule that legislative bodies have made improper decisions, but pointed to state statute that mandates all conditional use permits be approved by the corporate entity of the area, in this case the DuPage County Board.

Michelassi said he was confident that when another vote is taken, the permit will be issued, but stressed that Pallmeyer’s ruling made board members feel as if they were being ordered to vote a certain way.

The matter should be settled soon, though, he said.

“It’s going to be behind us,” he said.

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