Michigan Islamic Academy weighs options as Justice Department reviews religious discrimination complaint
But leaders of a proposed Islamic academy at the center of the case have yet to decide how they will proceed regardless of the DOJ’s findings.
Tarek Nahlawi, a member of the Michigan Islamic Academy board, said school leaders have multiple options to consider.
“Do we need to move forward with finding an alternative place? Do we stay at this location and see what happens with legal action against the township? This is something we’re still debating internally and weighing our options,” he said.
Nahlawi said the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has an attorney representing the MIA, brought the case to the Justice Department's attention. Nahlawi said he isn’t aware of the status of the review and said the school was not directly involved in alerting the DOJ of the case, but he added he felt Pittsfield Township “had violated their own laws and rules.”
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
Gina Balaya, a representative from the Detroit's U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to offer any details on the case.
“We are reviewing the matter to determine whether to open a full investigation,” she said.
In October, the Pittsfield Township Board of Trustees unanimously rejected a zoning change request by the academy needed to allow the proposed school to be built. The MIA wanted to build a 360-student capacity building at the intersection of Golfside and Ellsworth Roads.
The property is zoned residential PUD and the Islamic Academy was asking to have it changed to a non-residential PUD, which is consistent with the township’s master plan. The property was originally zoned as part of the neighboring Silverleaf Subdivision, but was foreclosed and went back to the lender.
Plans call for a building on a 26-acre parcel on the south side of Ellsworth, where Golfside dead-ends. Cars would exit via a new, short street that would create a four-way intersection at the dead-end.
The township’s planning commission voted against the zoning request in a split vote in August based on concern over the property's internal traffic patterns and external traffic impact. Commissioners opposed to the request also said the plan failed to meet open space, landscaping and lighting requirements.
Residents in the Silverleaf and the adjacent Roundtree Apartments have vocally opposed the project, also citing concerns over traffic and safety.
They say a new school would only add to traffic congestion caused by the 850-student Fortis Academy on Golfside.
But Michigan Islamic Academy board members and attorneys have repeatedly pointed to two separate independent traffic studies that have shown that there would be little impact on traffic.
Lena Masri, a CAIR attorney also representing the academy, didn’t return calls for comment. But CAIR attorneys previously told township officials that rejecting the rezoning requests violated the academy’s constitutional rights as well as their rights under the Religious Institutions Land Use Protection Act .
Masri previously said MIA met all requirements the planning commission put forth and said the school has been forced to spend more money than other rezoning applicants. She said it's longstanding practice for the planning commission to adopt such traffic studies’ findings and questioned why the planning commission chose to ignore them in this case.