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Posted on Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 2:50 p.m.

AP report: Federal officials looking into Pittsfield Township's zoning denial for Islamic school

By Steve Pepple

The Associated Press is reporting that the U.S. Department of Justice has launched a formal investigation into Pittsfield Township's denial of a zoning change for a proposed Islamic school.

According to the AP story, U.S. Attorney's office spokeswoman Gina Balaya confirmed Friday that the Justice Department has opened a formal investigation, but said it "is in no way a finding of discrimination."


Michigan Islamic Academy officials say the current school at 2301 Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor is inadequate.

File photo |

Pittsfield Township and officials from the Michigan Islamic Academy could not be reached for comment today by

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), was quoted in the AP story as saying the federal investigation is "a good sign" for the Muslim community.

CAIR and the Michigan Islamic Academy are already suing the township is federal court over the decision to deny rezoning for the school. The lawsuit -- filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday -- claims that the zoning denial violates First Amendment's religious freedom clause and the federal Religious Institutions Land Use Protection Act.

In the past, township officials said their opposition was based on safety and traffic concerns and had nothing to do with the request being for an Islamic school.

“The Pittsfield Township Planning Commission and Board of Trustees have and will continue to follow federal and state law and local ordinances when considering rezoning requests,” township Supervisor Mandy Grewal said in a statement issued after the lawsuit was filed.

Michigan Islamic Academy wants to build a 360-student school on about 26.7 acres of land at the intersection of Golfside Drive and Ellsworth Road. MIA says it current school on Plymouth Road in northeast Ann Arbor is inadequate to handle its student enrollment.

The township Board of Trustees rejected the rezoning request last October by an unanimous vote. That followed a recommendation by the township Planning Commission to deny the rezoning.



Mon, Feb 27, 2012 : 11:32 a.m.

I would like to know who did this traffic study. There is already horrible back up from overflow at the current school. Even with carpooling that's still 100 extra vehicles every school day. Also once the zoning has changed they can add as many students as they want. This guy new the zoning when he bought the property. He should have purchased property that was zoned for his needs and he would have met w 0 problems. The feds have enough problems to deal with. They should leave zoning to local communities.

Basic Bob

Mon, Feb 27, 2012 : 12:48 p.m.

"I would like to know who did this traffic study." Traffic engineer (and Pittsfield planning commissioner) Chris Wall. Oh what a tangled web we weave....


Mon, Feb 27, 2012 : 4:49 a.m.

Seems to me that if I paid $260,000 for some property that I would have done my homework to see what I could build on it in stead of trying to force a township to change the zoning. I can't buy a piece of commercial property and build a house on it, Nor would I want to. It also seems to me that the zoning denial doesn't have anything to do with religion. Ask the people over in Silverleaf and the surrounding residential areas would they want a Walmart, strip mall, a church or any other type of school built in their backyard. A lot of people use these establishments but wouldn't want them right next door. I would think that most residence would have a problem with that. It would be one thing if the school was there first and the residence decided to build houses around it but it's another thing to build commercial property in a residential area. Sale the property (for a profit maybe) and find some commercial property in another area where it would be better for everyone.


Mon, Feb 27, 2012 : 3:17 a.m.

CAIR is well connected and uses the judicial system to intimidate governmental agencies and private citizens. They are well funded and are playing to win. I predict Pittsfield will have to cave now that Holder and company is on the case. Local government is losing more and more power to the federal government


Mon, Feb 27, 2012 : 1:09 a.m.

The Michigan Islamic Academy has decided to escalate their incompetent handling of a simple zoning issue into a national political issue. Shame on them. They brought in CAIR to fund their conflict, a known co-associate of terrorist organizations. How does this reduce tensions? How does this assure the Ann Arbor community that Muslims can be trusted to be a peaceful neighbor?


Mon, Feb 27, 2012 : 8:41 a.m.

Mike: It doesn't assure A2 the peace of mind. It increases the tension in the area,as well as surrounding areas! I sure hope they(CAIR) lose in court, they knew this about the property, it all comes down to if they didn't get their way they wave the Religion Card just like someone else said in prior comments. This is America, we do things differently here. We aren't allowed to built our Christian communities over there, why should they be allowed to build them here???


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 7:52 p.m.

Did they check the zoning BEFORE they bought it? Probably not!


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 4:51 p.m.

How come the DOJ did not get involved when Ave Maria University wanted to build a religious college in A2 Township? Is the DOJ going to get involved in the zoning denial for the local sausage makers? <a href=""></a>

Sandy Castle

Mon, Feb 27, 2012 : 3:29 p.m.

A2citizen, Someone has to file a complaint for the DOJ to get involved. They are not any different from any other prosecutorial agency, like our own county prosecutor's office or the state attorney general's office. From your link,, under the heading, How to File a Complaint; &quot;The Civil Rights Division enforces civil rights laws in a wide variety of contexts. You may use the information on this page to find the appropriate way to submit a complaint or report of a potential civil rights violation&quot; Don't let facts get in the way of your conspiracy theory rant.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 9:02 p.m.

Sandy, Why would you expect Ave Maria to have to appeal for the DOJ to get involved? Just because Ave Maria chose not to appeal does not mean they were not entitled to equal protection. The DOJ is not required to wait for a zoning appeal or lawsuit in order to investigate civil rights infractions. From the DOJ's own homepage: &quot;The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, created in 1957 by the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, works to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of ALL Americans.&quot; CAIR filed a lawsuit in federal court. The DOJ took it upon themselves to investigate. This is simply a case of the DOJ picking and choosing their fight. Catholics and sausage makers need not apply. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Sandy Castle

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 7:26 p.m.

<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> articles/catholic_stories/cs0039.html

Sandy Castle

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 7:25 p.m.

That site didn't post right- <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Sandy Castle

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 7:23 p.m.

Heres the answer to your question about why the DOJ didn't get involved. According to an article on The Catholic Education Resource website, (<a href=";There" rel='nofollow'>;quot;There</a> was no appeal to the trustees' 5-2 vote, Byma said.&quot;

The Black Stallion3

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 5:54 p.m.

Great question.............and very few the DOJ only concerned with certain religions? Seems that way to me.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 5:11 p.m.

No Sparty, they are not. But it is interesting to note that they make a food that Muslims refuse to eat.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 5:07 p.m.

Are the sausage makers a new religion denied ability to build a school after fulfilling multiple traffic and safety studies showing that the school didn't cause the problems the Township hoped would be identified ?

Les Gov

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 4:35 p.m.

No shock over this. It has been known for a long time that in Pittsfield the rules are applied differently to different people. One family can go in with a request for a permit and be turned down. The house next door can go in with the exact plan and be approved. IMO when you want to do something in Pittsfield you have to grease the wheel. Someone didn't grease the wheel and now we are hearing the squeaks...

The Black Stallion3

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 4:04 p.m.

Sad but true........If you can't win fairly..........pull the &quot;Race Card&quot;

Sandy Castle

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 7:10 p.m.

They haven't pulled the race card, they've pulled the religion card. Lots of people pulling that one these days.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 3:37 p.m.

This wouldn't be the first time that Walid and CAIR have been involved in unsubstantiated allegations of racism: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Mon, Feb 27, 2012 : 3:21 a.m.

That is a very interesting and eye-opening account. It's frightening that Ayad is a member of the Civil Rights Commission.

The Black Stallion3

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

I think a &quot;Hot Dog Stand&quot; would be a better business for this site.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 6:46 p.m.

If I had posted a cryptic comment and was asked for clarification, I would have the courage to explain myself, taking responsibility for what I had posted.

The Black Stallion3

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 6:03 p.m.

Being as intelligent as the two of you are I would have suspected that you would have figured it out by now.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 5:39 p.m.

@Peter, I don't get it either. For possibly more insight, read the comments at <a href=""></a> .


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 3:14 p.m.

I don't gEt It, your phrasing is inconGruous, wHy did you capiTalize onlY hot dog stand? Do you mean a litEral hot dog stand, or dId you Group tHaT in quotations because it's some sort of code or something?


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 2:25 p.m.

Please come park in my driveway and watch as cars speed thru the neighborhood after dropping off students at Fortis. Come observe them parking on my sod and sprinkler heads as there a huge line spilling out onto Golfside therefore making parking in our neighborhood more convenient for them. They sometimes will be grumpy when I ask them to please be respectful of my property. I never try to leave my house at the school dismissal time as the area is congested with both cars and with parents running across Golfside. Watch as parents who are forced to exit one way as they drop off and pick up their kids, turn around one after the other in our driveways with no regard to the where the sides of the driveways stop. I'm not a smoker so why do I need to sweep up cigarette butts thrown out by waiting drivers? Thank you Pittsfield Township for listening to the tax payers and homeowners who would be negatively impacted by more traffic.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

You may not be thanking them if they lose the lawsuit and have to pay damages, raising your taxes as a result.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 2:06 p.m.

@Alan ... absolutely agreed. I'm so tired of developers/builders/whoever purchasing land under the assumption they will just &quot;get what they want&quot; and have it be rezoned. It's a waste of taxpayer money when these people use the legal system as a means to THEIR end.


Mon, Feb 27, 2012 : 5:38 a.m.

That's what the legal system is for, actually (using the legal system as a means to their end).

Mike D.

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

Steve, how about some context and analysis here? What other zoning changes have been requested and/or granted by the township? It is my understanding that zoning rules can be, and often are, changed within reason. Other than a bunch of NIMBY and/or xenophobic neighbors worried about &quot;traffic&quot; that all the studies say won't be a factor, it's hard to see why this wouldn't be allowed. Given the strict scrutiny under which zoning denials for religious institutions are judged, it's hard to fathom that the school won't get what it wants. Especially if zoning variances are common in the township.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 2 p.m.

Why have a Planning Commission and a Township Board if everything they vote for or against is put into scrutiny and sent to a Federal Court as a lawsuit. Taking the traffic concerns into account is just one piece of the puzzle. Could it be that they listened to the residents of the area who were also against this school for traffic/safety concerns. Or residents who assumed houses were going to be built in the neighborhood, not a school. I just get a feeling that in todays society, we are getting to a point where if we don't get what we want, we threaten to sue. I hope the Federal Court sides with the Township on this, but I am guessing they won't when all is said and done. And I hope that when they build the school in that particular area (with opposition), that they feel welcomed!

Basic Bob

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 3:56 p.m.

Every development or change is challenged by neighbors, whether it is Walmart or Masjid Bilal. These were allowed, even with fierce opposition, and are now welcomed in the community. You can bet some of their neighbors are still upset, but you can't buy land next to railroad tracks and then complain about the noise from the trains.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

the feds should stick to TRYING to straighten out the mess they have created in D.C. and the country as a whole rather than getting involved in local zoning issues.DOJ will look into anything because it's a political arm of the executive branch. Stay away DOJ we can solve this problem on our own.

Basic Bob

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 3:52 p.m.

Doubtful we can solve this short of a successful recall of the Harvest PTA / township administration. IMO, this is more shameful than the perceived &quot;approval&quot; of Walmart, which was clearly within the planned use for that land, all except for the Harvest PTA.

Dog Guy

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 12:17 a.m.

It is indeed news that the U. S. Department of Justice is investigating. Eric Holder's DOJ encouraged and aided gun running to Mexican drug cartels, but no investigating. There are a fair number of counties in which votes cast exceed the number of adults, but no investigating. Our president overtly refuses to enforce laws which do not fit his agenda, but no investigating. I am gratified that the DOJ is resurrecting its investigating tradition, but wondering if any of its employees still remember how to investigate.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 3:34 p.m.

Yes this Washington Post article post article ends by indicating its a legal judgement call, one that the DOJ must have made based on evidence after the investigation. Dog Guys claim was that no investigation was done. That's clearly not the case, now is it, as your own source proves. Nice try.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 1:14 p.m.

&quot;Do you have specifics where DOJ has not investigated or are you just spouting baseless claims?&quot; <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 3:44 a.m.

DOJ and Congress is and has been investigating the Bush and Obama gun running programs designed to locate drug cartels, multiple congressional hearings have been held. Locations accused of voting irregularities do conduct investigations and report to DOJ. Do you have specifics where DOJ has not investigated or are you just spouting baseless claims? The DOJ is enforcing all laws but is choosing to not defend those it feels are unconstitutional, a key difference to what you post. Clearly a hyper partisan post but factually incorrect.


Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 11:48 p.m.

Those who worked to frame the Bill of Rights would be really surprised by the unintended consequences resulting from their efforts during the 1780s. They knew well of state religion so they took care to prohibit them. Little did they suspect that, after a couple hundred years, the number and kinds of non-government religions would inundate the United States they created. Nor did they foresee the lengths these mystical belief system leaders would go to in order to expand their power and influence over a (perhaps too) trusting population. Religions are not created by gods but by men Give them an inch and they'll take a mile - then complain because they didn't get two miles.


Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 11:39 p.m.

I will say this again and continue to repeat it.....My comment is in regard to traffic issues. I understand where the neighborhoods concerns come from. My daughter went to a charter school. Hello! folks, there is no bussing for most of these schools. There is some carpooling, but for the most part each child (360) will be driven to school and picked up from school. Unless these school could come to some kind of agreement about starting and ending of the school day, which I doubt either will, please consider another location. So yes this area will be a nightmare with two charter school within sight of each other. This statememt is not about race or religon. Plesase don't read between the line because there is nothing there.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 7:33 p.m.

amoc I hope that the schools would make changes to their school day. But who should have to be? Bet the new school would be asked to first but would they be willing to for the right to build the school? I don't know the answer to that and neither do you. Would the school that has been there the longest have to change? Would they be willing to I don't know and neither do you. From my experience with schools they don't like making changes to school time frames unless they have to because the state for federal laws say the need to.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 4:55 p.m.

AAW- I live near the current site of MIA, and drove my own kids to a &quot;school of choice&quot; in the AAPS system past there for several years. You are incorrect in your assessment in one very important detail. There are typically 2-4 school children per car among the families now enrolled at MIA, and that is not expected to change with the change in sites. I have also picked up or dropped off friends' kids at Fordis, and yes the traffic at that intersection is a nightmare for half an hour twice a day. But my informal sample showed about half the cars in that traffic jam picked up or dropped off only a single Fordis student. I'm fairly sure that MIA could be persuaded to be a good neighbor and offset their school day schedule by at least half an hour in order to avoid worsening to the congestion. Perhaps that assumption was made in the 3 separate traffic studies that showed that the school would not worsen conditions in that area.


Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 11:15 p.m.

Just curious. Why do we have zoning laws? Seems like every time the zoning doesn't fit someone's desired use they just sue or complain, then get their way. What's the point?

Basic Bob

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 3:46 p.m.

Show me any zoning category that says &quot;schools only&quot;, &quot;churches and religious institutions&quot;, etc. A school - public or private - is consistent with residential zoning. Drive past any elementary or middle school and you will find it surrounded by residential development, not agricultural, commercial, or industrial. It does not require rezoning (like Costco), but conditional use. Also we need to consider what is the likelihood of this property being developed as a residential neighborhood. It's zoning might as well be vacant land, if they have a category for that.


Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 10:06 p.m.

Hmmm .... I'm sure Pittsfield Twp. will be nervous with the DOJ investigation on top of the federal lawsuit filed by CAIR. Despite other's claims, DOJ does not investigate every claim of of racial bias by state and local governments --- they'd need to quadruple the size of the department if they did so. LoL.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 3:35 a.m.

Heavily democratic Washtenaw County, with lots of attention on this case already? I'd think a lot of attention will be spent on this case as the legal case moves forward, I'd bet the DOJ will be watching.....


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 12:13 a.m.

Of course the DOJ investigates but the resources and time spent doing so is in portion to the credibility of the charge. I doubt the DOJ is going to spend too much time or manpower on this one.


Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 9:35 p.m.

The Department of Justice investigates any complaint of racial bias by state and local government regardless of whether it has merit. This should not surprise anyone.

Chase Ingersoll

Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 9:02 p.m.

IT WAS NOT CHURCHBELLS. The cases involved churches purchasing property that was formerly retail/sales producing and taking it off the tax rolls. If you have 26 acres that was previously zoned R1, you are looking at a minimum of 100 single family homes that will collectively generate 300-500k per year in property taxes, plus water, sewer and other utility revenues. FURTHER, single family homes are on average, resold every 7 years, so there are the transfer fees/taxes for the 15 properties a year that would be re-sold, not to mention the 100's of thousands of dollars in real estate commissions, title transfer fees and lender fees. Now, who is it that sits on &quot;zoning boards&quot;? Is it religious freedom loving types. No. Zoning boards are usually made up of well connected realtors, bankers, insurance agents and retired public sector employees from the community, who are probably paying 4-6k per year in property taxes themselves, and who probably have more than one good friend or relative who works for the local taxing bodies and who recommended that they be appointed to the zoning commission. Accordingly, THIS IS NOT ABOUT RACE OR RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION. This is about local governments, needing to constantly generate more revenue, so they look at every parcel and citizen in their domain and put a $ sign on as to how it can generate the most real estate and sales taxes for the public coffers that they control. 2000 years ago, this is what the religious leaders of the time did to the City of Jerusalem. And they hung the man that said, &quot;...make not my Father's House a house of merchandise...&quot; Chase Ingersoll


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 5:05 p.m.


Chase Ingersoll

Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 4:54 p.m.

Kafkaland: You've raised the correct legal issue. I am simply pointing to the underlying economic issue. Legally it boils down to freedom of religion and assembly, which is more important than a government complaining about traffic control. That is the government's job - to deal with the traffic issues as best they can that result from people exercising their civil liberties, not to curtail the civil liberties. I too think that the township is going to lose and that they would have better served their constituencies to have negotiated with the religious organization to get a layout that would have facilitated the traffic....if the organization is not already planning on doing that anyway.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 12:28 a.m.

Sorry, Chase, this case hinges not on the need of local government to generate revenue, or traffic issues, or alleged discrimination, for that matter. It is plainly a matter of what religious institutions are allowed to do on their land under federal law. And that is basically anything they wish to, unless the local government can show that their objection is necessary to further a compelling government interest, and that they do it in the least obtrusive manner possible. A possible argument could be that preventing traffic congestion is a compelling government interest, and that no matter what they could do, like requiring them to pay for new traffic lights or road widening, nothing will work. But it won't be easy to meet that burden, and it will cost a lot of money in legal fees, traffic studies, etc.


Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 8:53 p.m.

Somebody knows somebody,who cares if are roads are already overcrowded.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.

I've driven through this area when the existing school is letting out. Traffic is horrendous. Anyone who says otherwise has not been there. Adding another school will only make it worse. Should I believe a traffic study or my own experience? Facts are stubborn things.


Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 10:02 p.m.

But multiple traffic studies showed otherwise .... those darn facts keep getting in the way.

Honey Badger Don't Care

Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 8:48 p.m.

Wowsers! Yet another INFLAMATORY article from! They just love to stir the pot, don't they? Shame! For SHAME! SMH

Susanne Brace

Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 10:56 p.m.

In the future I suggest not replying to Honey Badger....clearly a troll.


Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 10:01 p.m.

I agree with DBH --- the article is fact based, and certainly relevant to the topic. It's also timely given the lawsuit filed by CAIR, so it's very newsworthy. I gather those that disagree with the lawsuit and now federal investigation will make all sorts of claims.


Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 9:34 p.m.

@Honey etc., thanks for your reply. The absence of any useful or corroborating information tells me all I need to know.

Honey Badger Don't Care

Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 9:12 p.m.

DBH, it's always nice to hear your opinion. That, and a dollar, will buy you a Coke.


Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

@Honey etc., that is not an explanation, that is unfounded (so far, at least) accusation. Care to provide more (or any, actually) detail?

Honey Badger Don't Care

Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 9:09 p.m.

This is the sort of yellow journalism that distorts facts and create lies . SMH


Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 9:02 p.m.

How is this inflammatory? The headline seems pretty straightforward and objective, and the article recapitulates facts which have already been reported. Please explain.


Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 8:34 p.m.

Key in this is the Religious Institutions Land Use Protection Act. It gives religious institutions an almost total exemption from all zoning laws. It was enacted because christian churches complained that they were discriminated against by secular liberals when they wanted to build new churches with loud bells etc. Now, of course, other religious organizations can claim the same rights, and it does not please everyone (karma?). Under these special rules, the decision not to re-zone is usbject to &quot;strict scrutiny&quot;, which means that the township has to prove that their decision was necessary to further a compelling government interest, and is the least restrictive way to achieve that. And making that argument is not going to be easy.

Michigan Reader

Mon, Feb 27, 2012 : 10:46 a.m.

@Kafkaland------I stand corrected. I just googled the Religious Institutions Land Use Protection Act. You're right.


Sun, Feb 26, 2012 : 1:37 a.m.

Hey Honey! We are getting tired of the dribble!

Michigan Reader

Sat, Feb 25, 2012 : 10:37 p.m.

I believe the Religious Institutions Land Use Protection Act says this, to paraphrase, &quot;A municipal body may not UNREASONABLY---that's key---restrict the use of a religious institution's rights. Discriminatory impact, or discriminatory treatment, is not being alleged. That's where the &quot; strict scrutiny&quot; would come in, in a civil rights violation allegation.