WB zoning officials to inspect proposed mosque property

By: Eric Czarnik | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published October 11, 2012

The West Bloomfield Zoning Board of Appeals will head to the proposed site of a Muslim Community Center with a domed mosque after hearing details about the plan at an Oct. 4 meeting.

The ZBA agreed unanimously to embark on an Oct. 16 onsite inspection to get a better feel of the property before it rules on issues like wall screenings.

The site, located at 29410 W. 14 Mile Road, at the corner of 14 Mile and Middlebelt roads, belonged to the former Eagle Elementary School, but the Farmington Public Schools district sold the property to the Islamic Cultural Association of Franklin in 2011. The property is located in an R-15 residential zone.

The ICA’s representatives said at the Oct. 4 meeting that they sought zoning interpretations and, if necessary, variances relating to parking, screening walls and height restrictions for the proposed mosque’s domes and minaret.

According to township officials, the top of the tallest dome will be 42 feet off the ground, the tip of the tallest dome’s spire will reach about 48 feet, and the mosque’s minaret will reach around 45 feet. According to officials, the mosque has agreed to not broadcast an outdoor call to prayer.

Attorney Richard Rattner said the domes have religious significance, and he compared the building’s dimensions to other local religious architecture, such as The Shul in West Bloomfield.

“We have designed this mosque so that the midpoint of the domes are 35 feet, which is in compliance with the ordinance of R-15,” Rattner said.

ZBA Chair David Ray Robertson said he doesn’t think a variance is needed for the domes, adding that he believes in the township’s traditional method for measuring dome height. That method treats domes like gambrel roofs and would register the height at the midpoint.

“This is consistent with not how only religious institutions have been treated in the township,” he said. “It’s also the way that residents have been treated in the township. It’s the way that other commercial properties have been treated in the township. ”

Robertson said parking lots and sidewalks are ancillary and so don’t count as structures.

Several local residents who spoke out during public comment said the proposed design is too large and is an attempt to symbolically dominate the area. Others say the building could distract drivers and cause accidents.

“I believe, from an architectural standpoint, that the mosque was deliberately set to face that intersection,” said Herb Morrison of Farmington Hills, “and that it’s overwhelming to everybody who has to pass it by, especially at night if it gets lit up, which I think it will.”

The ZBA voted 3-2 to apply the gambrel roof provision to the dome heights and not count paved parking lots as structures. Board members Robert Sher and Don Jackson voted no. Both said they wanted more time to think about the height issue. “I’d like to be at the site to make that decision,” Sher said.

The panel also voted to table other issues — such as wall modifications — until after its Oct. 16 onsite inspection.