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Posted on Sun, Feb 5, 2012 : 12:22 p.m.

Michigan Islamic Academy weighs options as Justice Department reviews religious discrimination complaint

By Tom Perkins

The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing a religious discrimination complaint against Pittsfield Township.

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.”


Residents in Silverleaf Subdivision say they don't want an Islamic Academy built on vacant property behind their neighborhood.

Tom Perkins | For

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.



Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 11:21 p.m.

remember --stating that a comment was withheld is code for the rest of us , that our views are just not being published, --and we have that routine figured out------

Rod Johnson

Wed, Feb 8, 2012 : 6:31 p.m.

Maybe it's just that your views are expressed in an incoherent way. You use of hyphens is bizarre, to say the least.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 8:54 p.m.

The school met the townships master plan requirements. The school conducted traffic analysis as required by the planning commission with favorable outcomes, but then the commission ignored the results and said they didn't like the landscaping, and then it was the lighting. It was clear that it was one thing after another to prevent the school from being built and that it didn't have anything to do with traffic congestion. It will be interesting to see what the Justice Department has to say about Pittsfield Twp.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 6:47 p.m.

Why is it that in today's society any group that doesn't get their way automatically pulls out the "hole card"? If the site plan requires re-zoning and the elected commision doesn't find it feasible then it should be a done deal. The commision knows the nut's and bolt's of the community, ie...traffic, easements, logistical support...etc.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

I cannot understand why any community would oppose adding a school. Schools are necessary for the survival of a community! Asking what kind of school automatically violates their civil rights. A school is a school is a school! It always creates traffic congestion, but brings people to the community. Pittsfield needs to let this happen or be branded as a closed minded community!


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 7:24 p.m.

@Beth said "Why are some commenters, and the school leaders themselves, so quick to assume that this must be a case of religious discrimination? That's what I find truly sad about this." Because...... for these school leaders anyway, it gets the attention they want/need to drive home their case of being "misunderstood".


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 6:43 p.m.

I agree Beth...


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 6:34 p.m.

The problem isn't that it's an Islamic school - the problem is that they want to build a school right next to 2 existing neighborhoods in an area zoned residential that's also very near another school that is already causing huge traffic problems. I'd feel the same way if someone tried to build a school, of any kind, in the unbuilt portion of my neighborhood, something I thought would stay residential when I bought my house. Why are some commenters, and the school leaders themselves, so quick to assume that this must be a case of religious discrimination? That's what I find truly sad about this.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 12:03 p.m.

I am interested to know where an acceptable spot would be, to build any Muslim institution. Can any reader tell me where such a spot might exist?

Usual Suspect

Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

I would say a place that is zoned for it would be a good start.

Matt Cooper

Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 1:14 p.m.

Why Muslim, specifically? Why not ask the same question about Lutheran "institutions", or Catholic, or Protestant, or Bhuddist?


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 12:59 a.m.

Here we go again, no new news to report as usual, just throwing some bait out there for all the nasty comments that will now inevitably pile up.


Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 6:12 a.m.

Rabble rabble rabble?