The West Bloomfield Township Planning Commission and the township’s Wetland Review Board at a joint meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 14 tabled two actions regarding a proposed Muslim cultural center until a site visit is concluded.
Members from the commission and review board at 2 p.m. on Sept. 9 will visit the former Eagle Elementary School building site on the northwest corner of Middlebelt and 14 Mile roads, where the center is proposed to be built.
The commission’s agenda for the Aug. 14 meeting included a site plan and special land use approval for the cultural center, as well as a floodplain review for a stormwater management system.
But those issues will be revisited at the commission’s next meeting scheduled for Oct. 23.
If the commission approves, its recommendation for the cultural center will then be sent before the township Board of Trustees for final approval.
The site encompasses 9.55 acres and would include a 13,102-square-foot addition consisting of a mosque, lobby and multi-purpose room on the existing 38,860-square-foot building, creating a 51,962-square-foot place of worship.
The Farmington Public Schools Board of Education has already approved the sale of the former Eagle Elementary School at 29410 W. 14 Mile Road in West Bloomfield for $1.1 million to the Islamic Cultural Association, now located in Franklin.
On July 29, 2011, a lawsuit was filed in Oakland County Circuit Court by Eugene Greenstein and Melvyn Sternfeld, two residents who live near the school, claiming that the Farmington school board had already approved and took bids on the school’s demolition; and that the purchase by the Islamic Cultural Association took place back in January 2011 and didn’t follow an approved bidding process before the sale.
Their lawsuit was rejected in court, but an appeal is currently pending.
Township Board Liason Steve Kaplan said that the Aug. 14 meeting was the most attended planning commission meeting in the last four years, with 125 people in attendance, including some who had to watch the meeting on televisions in adjacent rooms.
Kaplan added that many attendees were in opposition to the center because of concerns over vehicular traffic and the proposed height of the building, which would be 38 feet.
Some attendees, as well as Planning Commissioner Jim Manna, also questioned Islamic Cultural Association member Nabil Sullman about additional funding for the proposed cultural center from outside groups and organizations.
That prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to contact the U.S. Department of Justice the next day, Wednesday, Aug. 15, regarding what it believes to be inappropriate questioning.
“We’re going to continue to monitor the situation. We believe this is based on a national trend in which trustee board members use excuses to block cultural centers and schools,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of CAIR. “We also have a federal lawsuit against Pittsfield Township regarding the Michigan Islamic Academy.”
Sullman said at the meeting that the total cost of the project would be between $5 and $6 million when completed over a 3- to 5-year period.