No action taken on Muslim center

8/9/2017, 11:17 p.m.

By Madhu Mayer – news@thetimesweekly.com

It appears plans to convert a building that once was home to a Montessori school in Plainfield to a Muslim community center are in jeopardy.

The Plainfield Village Board Monday did not take action on a special use request for religious assembly for the Plainfield Community Center at 23616 W. Main St. (Route 126). Organizers wanted the building to serve as a Muslim community center, primarily intended for religious assembly, organized prayer and worship services and community development.

Mayor Michael Collins broke the tie as the trustees were in a stalemate to table the request until parking issues could be resolved. Because Collins voted against postponing the proposal for two weeks, the motion to table the matter died on the floor. When the mayor asked trustees if anyone wanted to make a motion to vote on the special use request at this time, none of the elected officials spoke, meaning no action was taken on the proposal.

But Zaki Basalath of the Islamic Foundation of the Southwest Suburbs can still present revised plans to the board at a later date after conferring with village staff.

The proposal under review Monday showed peak hours at the building projected to be on Friday at 1 p.m. with 60 attendees, which includes 50 people for worship and 10 volunteers. During the religious holiday Ramadan, Basalath said this figure could increase by 20 percent to about 72 people. For the vast majority of the week, he said the building would mostly be vacant with the projected attendance within the range of 10 to 12 people and up to 20 for a few hours on weekends when classes may be offered.

Village trustees took into consideration the apprehensions of nearby residents, like Trudi Olivo of the 23600 block of Ash Street, who worries about the proposed community center's impact on traffic in the residential area.

Representing the Concerned Residents of the Ash Street Neighborhood Committee, Olivo said the community center is unlike the Montessori school that was primarily open during weekdays and not late into the night.

"Prayer services that begin as early as 3:30 a.m. and start as late as 10 p.m. are not in consistency with the prior special use permit or the use of a building zoned for residential use," she said. "Ramadan is a special 30-day celebration that brings more attendees to the late evening service. During the last 10 days of Ramadan especially, a prayer vigil is held extending later into the night. The Facebook page for this organization states they are open 24 hours a day."

Actually, Ramadan is a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief. The month lasts 29 to 30 days based on visual sighting of the crescent moon. In 2018, Ramadan begins May 15 and ends June 14.

Based on plans she has seen, Olivo added the Plainfield Community Center also plans to host religious retreats, adult Arabic classes, youth activities and weekend school, which, she fears, would only worsen traffic in the residential area.

"The facility will be in constant use adding an extra level of concern to the neighbors of this community due to higher traffic levels, disrepair of the streets, a lack of sidewalks and quite honestly, the people that speed down Ash as if they are on the freeway," she said.

While she applauds the applicant's intended activities and prayer services as positive, Olivo said she and the neighbors would like the building on Route 126 to remain zoned as residential.

"I do believe the church and religious institution provide many positives to the community," said trustee Ed O'Rourke. "But I am concerned about the parking."

While the site is large enough to accommodate additional parking, Jonathan Proulx, director of planning for the Village of Plainfield, said the applicant has not provided any definitive plans for a parking lot expansion at this time.