Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 3, 2017

Fed. Dist. Court of MI Finds No Open Meetings Violation Relating to the Approval for the Construction of a Mosque

Plaintiffs Kamal Anwiya Youkhanna, Josephine Soro, Wafa Catcho, Marey Jabbo, Debi Rrasi, Jeffrey Norgrove, and Megan McHugh filed an § 1983 action against Defendants City of Sterling Heights and its Mayor, Michael C. Taylor, alleging the Defendants violated their fundamental rights protected by the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, by entering into a Consent Judgment with the American Islamic Community Center (“AICC”), which allowed the construction of a mosque on 15 Mile Road in the City. Pursuant to the City’s Zoning Ordinance (“SHZO”), “places of worship” were not permitted as of right in any of the City’s 23 zoning districts. However, “places of worship” were expressly allowed in Residential (R-60) zoned areas through Special Approval Land Use (“SALU”) under the SHZO. In order to qualify, the place of worship was required to demonstrate the proposed construction met the objective standards of the SHZO along with general discretionary standards listed for consideration in the SHZO.
The court first noted that while the City Council was required to consider the same factors as the Planning Commission under the SHZO, it was not required to reach the same conclusion as the Planning Commission. The fact that the Planning Commission’s review of the general discretionary criteria lead its members to conclude that the SALU should be denied therefore did not mean the City Council was required to reach the same conclusion after its review of the general discretionary criteria set forth in SHZO § 25.02.
Plaintiffs next argued that they were not provided notice of the City Council’s meeting concerning the propriety of the City approving the Consent Judgment. The court rejected this argument, finding Plaintiffs had no right to a public hearing, since the SHZO stated that public hearings were required for SALU requests except when “the Planning Commission has previously held a public hearing on the request … or the special approval land use proposed to be approved is within a development proposed to be developed pursuant to a consent judgment that is approved by the City Council to resolve pending litigation with the city.”
Plaintiffs further claimed that the Mayor directed the City police to seize individuals and escort them out of the meeting if the Mayor opposed what they were saying about the Consent Judgment. However, according to the record, these individuals were not removed until after public comment, 26 interruptions, several warnings and three recesses. Moreover, the record reflected that the meeting was broadcast to a local television channel, which was able to be viewed in the vestibule area where the residents were relocated once the Mayor ordered everyone out of Council chambers.
Finally, the court found that plaintiffs failed to provide any evidence as to its claims of irreparable injury or harm to others if the mosque was permitted to be constructed. Accordingly, plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction was denied.
Youkhanna v City of Sterling Heights, 2017 WL 2798386 (ED MI 6/28/2017)


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