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Ruling Delayed On Proposed DuPage County Mosque

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Photo Of Decorative Element Atop A Minaret. (Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)

Photo Of Decorative Element Atop A Minaret. (Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)

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UPDATED 02/08/11 6:05 p.m.

WHEATON, Ill. (CBS/WBBM) – Proposals for a mosque near Willowbrook remain up in the air. The DuPage County Board Tuesday sent the mosque proposal back to committee for further discussion.

The board’s development committee voted last week to approve the request to build the 5,700-square-foot Muslim Education Cultural Center of America (MECCA). But board member Tony Michelassi (D-Aurora) said fellow board members brought up a number of concerns following approval by the committee, which he chairs.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts reports

As a result, the committee will take up the issue again next Tuesday.

The board did not delay votes on zoning variations sought to build a 79-foot minaret and a 69-foot dome atop the center, should it be built. Michelassi said that both were defeated 16-2, with board members saying that the structures were too large for the neighborhood.

“The dome and minaret are component parts of the Muslim faith,” MECCA attorney Mark Daniel said. “You don’t see mosques today without domes and minarets that indicate their faith.”

MECCA hopes to build the $14 million project at 91st Street and Kingery Road; the area’s existing zoning limits such structures to 36 feet in height.

Supporters have said that denying permission to build the mosque would be anti-American. Opponents have said that they want to curb all new religious facilities in unincorporated areas of the county. The DuPage County Board will soon make a final decision on whether a proposed new mosque can be built near Willowbrook, but the ruling has been delayed

As CBS 2’s Mai Martinez reports, local residents say they oppose the crowding and traffic they say the mosque would bring.

“We have deer back here. We cardinals, opposums, coyotes,” Linda Scolaro said. “You can see the footprints in the snow.”

For 16 years, Linda and Tom Scolaro have loved the view from their Willowbrook home, but they fear all the trees and wildlife would be replaced by the proposed mosque and cultural center.

“It’s going to mean everything to me because that is why we bought the house,” Linda Scolaro said. “This was our dream home … and I feel like it’s going to be gone, just like that.”

But the Scolaros said they aren’t giving up on without a fight and neither are their neighbors. Dozens of them packed the zoning board meeting to voice their opposition to the proposed development.

I have concerns with the traffic, the parking, waterflow, flooding.” Bonnie Manikowski said.

Daniel said he believes concerns about more Muslims in the area might be fueling some of the opposition.

“They’ve all somehow forgotten the role of religion in society,” Daniel said.

Craig Rohner and others who oppose the project said that’s not true.

“This is just out of proportion to the community,” Rohner said.

Asked if he’d have the same objections to a church with a large steeple and cross, Rohner said, “most definitely.”

MECCA president Dr. Abdulgany Hamadeh said he wasn’t sure if religion was playing a role in the opposition to the mosque.

“I don’t know if it is or not. I think it comes down to neighbors who do not want to see anything in their neighborhood, including us,” Hamadeh said.

But the Chicago Tribune reports there are suspicions the residents are more worried about having Muslim people in their neighborhood than about traffic and property values.

Also, county zoning and planning officials reportedly are considering banning any kind of new religious buildings in unincorporated residential neighborhoods because they eat up open space.

The DuPage County Zoning Board previously rejected the mosque, infuriating many people who said the decision reflected a bias against Muslims.

Last month, Jane Ramsey, executive director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, said the ruling reminded her of real estate covenants that once excluded Jews, blacks and Catholics from Chicago’s suburbs up until 50 years ago.

“In many communities in the Chicago area [it was], ‘no Jews, no blacks, no Catholics,'” she said. “The terminology ‘religious over-saturation’ rings in that same vein.”

Dr Zahir Sahloul of the Chicago Islamic Council says members will await on the decision by the full DuPage County Board before deciding on a federal lawsuit.

CBS 2’s Mai Martinez contributed to this report.

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