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Carmel hearing for proposed mosque attracts 400 people



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A rendering of the proposed Islamic Life Center in Carmel, Indiana. About 400 people attended a zoning board meeting Monday night to discuss the construction of the center. Courtesy of City of Carmel Division of Planning and Zoning website Buy Photos

CARMEL, Ind. —  About 40 people spoke out Monday night against the proposed building of a mosque in a residential zone on Carmel’s west side. 

Most voiced concerns over a potential increase in traffic and noise in the area and potentially decreased property values. 

The comments came during a Board of Zoning Appeals hearing attended by about 300 people. Another 100 or so were unable to enter because of capacity issues, leading the board to continue the hearing at its next regular meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Monon Community Center. The location is subject to change.

 Al Salam Foundation, the group seeking to build the mosque, would need the Board of Zoning Appeals to approve a special use of the site to use the property for their Islamic Life Center.

“My property values are in great jeopardy,” said David Bidgood, a property owner north of the proposed mosque site, during the meeting. “Let’s use the zoning you have planned and prepared.” 

Only one person spoke in support of the mosque coming to the proposed location at the intersection of West 141st Street and Shelborne Road. 

A few people during the meeting said they support a mosque coming to Carmel, just not on the 5-acre parcel currently proposed. 

“We support the principal of the ILC,” said Ken Lovik, a resident of a nearby neighborhood. “Our only point of contention is the location.”

However, Ashhar Madni, vice president of the board of Al Salam Foundation, said the group has had trouble finding another location. The foundation previously bought a different piece of land, Madni said, but a deed issue specifying how the land could be used prevented them from building on it. 

Nadeem Ikhlaque, president of the board for Al Salam Foundation, also said at a public meeting last week there have been few property sellers willing to work with them, according to the Indianapolis Star. 

"Several said the land is for sale, but not for us,” he said, according to the Indianapolis Star.

The proposed mosque would have a capacity of 350 people and about 100 parking spots. 

The Islamic Life Center would offer daily worship, but an architect working with the foundation said these services are attended by a small number of people. He said the building’s main use would be on Fridays from about 1-2:30 p.m. for weekly congregational worship. 

Concerns were raised by residents about the timing of this worship possibly coinciding with school bus drop offs. A lawyer representing Al Salam Foundation said they would be connecting with nearby schools to discuss this issue. 

Many residents also commented on the narrowness of Shelborne Road, which has only two lanes.

The foundation's lawyer, Kevin Buchheit, said a traffic analysis will be done soon.

The architect also said the group is looking at geothermal energy for the mosque to mitigate noise from heating and cooling units, and the building will not have outdoor speakers, bells or chimes.

In an interview before the meeting,  Madni said he was confident the plan for the mosque could be worked out. 

“When a new thing is introduced in a neighborhood, there are people for and against on both sides,” Madni said. “We believe this change will be good for us and the neighbors.”

Concerns were also raised by homeowners about water drainage, light pollution and the size of the mosque compared to the size of the lot. 

Representatives for the mosque said the plans meet current regulations and standards, including for land capacity and how much of the land would be paved. 

Controversy also arose during the meeting over other uses of the building. Houses of worship often offer programs including daycare, educational services and youth activities, concerning residents who worry about traffic and noise. 

Many people also worried about a 9-acre parcel north of the mosque site being developed by the Al Salam Foundation in the future. The foundation will have to buy this parcel as part of a package deal, but there are no plans for any development there now.

Any development would have to also be approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals, according to the architect, because it is not included in the current proposal before the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Arisa Hussain, vice president of the Muslim Student Association at IU, grew up in Carmel and her mother is involved with the Al Salam Foundation board. 

Hussain said the building of the mosque in Carmel is important, given the growth of the Muslim community in the area. She said she doesn’t believe the issue is purely with residential zoning, adding that she’s never seen this sort of opposition to a church or synagogue.

“Even though there has been a lot of hate towards the Muslim community in Carmel, there’s also been a lot of love,” Hussain said in a text message. “There’s been a lot of interfaith alliances, and so many different groups of people are standing up for us and our rights, so I know a lot of people are grateful for their support.”

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