Muslim group sues Troy over mosque denial

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid

The city of Troy discriminated against a Muslim community group by rejecting plans to build an Islamic center, according to a federal court lawsuit filed Thursday.

The nonprofit Adam Community Center sued the city council, planning commission and members of Troy's zoning board of appeals. The group has tried unsuccessfully to build a community center in Troy, which has approximately 53 places of worship within its 33.6-square-mile border but not one for Muslims, according to the Michigan chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The lawsuit alleges Troy officials purposely and unconstitutionally tried to block the Muslim community from building a mosque along Rochester Road, north of Big Beaver Road, by unfairly and illegally applying zoning ordinances.

Adam Community Center sued five months after the Troy Zoning Board of Appeals indicated there was no acceptable place in the city left for the group to build a mosque. The decision prompted a Justice Department investigation into the city's zoning board of appeals practices, which is ongoing, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"Freedom of religion is a benchmark of American civil rights and is a beacon of freedom that shines across the globe,” Amy Doukoure, staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement Thursday. "When public officials are apparently guided by Islamophobia in their decision-making, we have an obligation to fight back to preserve our religious freedoms."  

Troy officials "will aggressively defend this lawsuit," City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm wrote in an email to The News.

"The city articulated several reasons for its denial of Adam’s multiple and significant variance requests for a retrofit of an existing building on Rochester Road that abuts residential properties," she wrote.

The center could not have been built without parking and other variances, Grigg Bluhm added.

"Some of these requested variances were significant," she wrote. "Through the variance process, (Adam) was required to demonstrate that they could not develop the property in accordance with Troy’s zoning ordinances because of hardships that related to the land itself."

The lawsuit is the latest legal fight involving a Metro Detroit municipality and Muslim groups trying to build places of worship.

The Islamic council and the Justice Department settled a similar case in 2016 after Pittsfield Township denied zoning for an Islamic school. Last year, the city of Sterling Heights paid a financial settlement to the Muslim community stemming from a zoning denial for an Islamic center.

 "Troy has unfortunately taken the route of other municipalities in blocking the establishment or expansion of religious facilities for American Muslims," the Islamic council's executive director, Dawud Walid, said in a statement. "We have no other option except to assert the constitutional rights of our community through litigation." 

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