Mosque proposed near homes divides Sterling Heights

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

As Sterling Heights residents speak out against plans for a mosque and civil rights activists claim anti-Muslim bias in the opposition, a Dearborn attorney has reached out to Sterling Heights residents and asked them to reconsider their positions.

“Some people that came here in search of religious liberty and personal freedom want the city government to enforce their opinions on others. This is simply unacceptable, and fundamentally un-American,” Tarek Baydoun, who is Muslim, was recorded as saying in a message he said had been delivered to more than 18,000 Sterling Heights homes Wednesday.

“Our Founding Fathers fought a bloody revolution. They fought for personal freedom and religious liberty, not property values. Please do not let this vocal minority divide Sterling Heights and create problems in place of opportunities.”

Meanwhile, a photo of a leaflet urging residents to attend a Sept. 10 meeting, when the Sterling Heights Planning Commission is expected to decide on the proposal for the mosque off 15 Mile, was posted on social media.

“If you agree that the building of this mosque is not in the best interest of the citizens of Sterling Heights, you must attend this meeting and let your voice be heard!” the poster read.

The messages from both sides followed comments by the mayor that seemed to signal a shift in his position about a proposed mosque; residents also weighed in on the plans at a City Council meeting Tuesday. More than 200 people also protested Saturday near the site of the proposed 20,500-square foot mosque on some 4.5 acres between Hatherly Place and Davison. They cited traffic congestion and lowered property values for opposing the structure.

As the mosque plans await a decision by the council, activists and others are denouncing what they call bias surrounding the proposal.

Council on American-Islamic Relations officials this week said they’ve noted “recent anti-Muslim comments by residents, which have been made in two city government meetings.”

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor, and Denise DeMarie discuss the mosque at a rally.

The leader of the group’s Michigan chapter also criticized comments Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor posted last week on Facebook. According to a screenshot of the page CAIR-MI obtained, Taylor wrote a message that read in part: “I am opposed to this mosque being built on 15 Mile Road. … I have nothing to do with this mosque and do not want it built there.”

“Mayor Taylor’s public opposition to the mosque not only calls into question his commitment to the civil rights of all residents of Sterling Heights but also his potentially wielding improper influence in upcoming proceedings relating to the mosque’s zoning,” CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid said Tuesday.

Taylor said during Saturday’s rally: “I am not expressing I am for or against the plan.” On Tuesday, he told The Detroit News that he supports a mosque — just not at the proposed site.

“I share the same concerns that many of the residents in the area that I have spoken with share, and that is that the proposed location is abutting to residential to the south, to the east and to the west. And this development as it’s proposed would include spires going 60 feet into the air. It would be a three-story ... building with a dome on top of that,” Taylor said. “They’re just concerned about placing that in a residential area and I share those concerns. And that has nothing to do with the religion, the people who would be practicing there. I would share those same concerns if this were a market. I would share these same concerns if this was of any religion or if it was of any other use.”

Taylor said his position has been misinterpreted, adding he supported another proposal for a Sterling Heights mosque in 2011.

“If (CAIR) had taken the time to reach out to me, I think they would’ve known that all of their concerns are misplaced and that I support (Muslims’ rights) to worship close to their home, to worship in a worship center in the city of Sterling Heights,” Taylor said Tuesday.

“I support their right to do that, but that doesn’t mean I can’t also be opposed to this development at this specific location as it is specifically proposed.”

A site plan for the multimillion-dollar project proposed by Jaafar Chehab, a longtime city resident who directs the American Islamic Community Center in Madison Heights, was presented during a Planning Commission meeting last month. It detailed the building with a 3,200-square-foot main worship area for 325 people as well as about 130 parking spaces.

Some residents have said they first learned of the mosque plan in late July when they received a postcard from the city advising them that the matter would be reviewed at the Planning Commission meeting. Many packed that meeting, debating the project for more than four hours and delaying a special-land-use vote. The property currently is zoned single-family residential but approval can be made for a house of worship.