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Metro Detroit

Warren Rejects Mosque Proposal (March 16, 2006)

Planner Says He May Take City To Court

Steve Elturk said another city board had already addressed a concern about broadcasting the Muslim call to prayer. It wouldn't be allowed. (RASHAUN RUCKER/Detroit Free Press)
Warren's planning commission said it doesn't care what will go on inside a building that could become the city's first mosque — it won't let the project move ahead because of what most of its members believe would happen outside it.
But Steve Elturk — whose proposal to build the mosque and Islamic learning center at an office and retail building on Ryan was shot down in a 6-3 vote Monday — said commissioners' concerns about parking and the prospect of a loudspeaker announcing the Muslim call to prayer had already been addressed by another city body.
Elturk said he may head to court to see if he can open the mosque, alleging that city officials' rejection of the project had more to do with religion than with parking spaces.
"One of the things I learned is the City of Warren is notorious for these attitudes," said Elturk, who added that the building cost close to $1 million. "I think the next step is going to be litigation, lawsuits. We need to work together to bring tolerance. I'm ready to fight this." Commission member Alan Casmere, who voted against the project, said the commission had no racial motives in making its ruling.
"We weren't racist at all toward this gentleman," Casmere said. "I know the commission feels strongly about that. We're not objecting to them locating in the City of Warren." Last year, Elturk tried to put the mosque in Hazel Park, but city officials would not rezone a property to accommodate him.
Elturk and the Islamic Organization of North America bought the building in August, and had already agreed in writing to not broadcast the five daily calls to prayer outside. But commissioners said Monday they were still concerned about the possibility of the call disrupting the neighborhood.
Several residents at the commission meeting raised concerns about the external loudspeaker. Commission members had the same worry, but Elturk said it was unfounded. On Jan. 25, Elturk received a variance from the city's Zoning Board of Appeals to open the center in a commercially zoned area. That variance included notice that the center could not place a loudspeaker on the building.
"It's already in writing," said Elturk, who was born in Lebanon and moved to Detroit in 1976. "It's a condition, and we all understand if we violate the condition we can lose the building."
"The sentiments were not only racial and discriminatory but the decision was premeditated," Elturk added. "We feel we have been discriminated against."
Elturk, 50, spent Tuesday and Wednesday mulling his options and has begun to talk with lawyers.
Dawud Walid, executive director for the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he was aware Elturk was trying to locate his headquarters in Warren. He said he wasn't surprised Elturk was turned down.
"We are aware that in the past with the City of Warren, there has been racial tension there," Walid said. "We're not going to jump to any conclusions that there was some type of blatant Islam-o-phobia."
Denny Strecker, who works as chief instructor at Karate and Fitness Center just north of Elturk's building, said Wednesday he wouldn't have a problem with the proposed mosque. He said he thought it would bring more people near his business.
"Any type of walking traffic is a benefit," Strecker said.
Casmere also said he felt the site's 87 parking spaces weren't enough to accommodate the traffic the worship center would attract.
"We're saying that's the wrong location," Casmere said. "We were concerned that he would outgrow his facility in a matter of months."
Contact DAN CORTEZ at 586-469-1827 or cortez@freepress.com.