Pittsfield Township to decide Michigan Islamic Academy's fate Wednesday at board meeting
The Pittsfield Township Board of Trustees will consider a rezoning request by a group wanting to build an Islamic school at the intersection of Ellsworth and Golfside roads.
The decision at the board's regular Wednesday night meeting comes after the planning commission voted 3-2 in August to recommend that the trustees reject the request made by the currently Ann Arbor-based Michigan Islamic Academy.
Tom Perkins | For Ann Arbor.com
Opponents’ biggest issue has been traffic concerns, but officials involved with the school say two separate traffic studies have found there would be little effect on traffic. They say the planning commission bases all its traffic planning decisions on the studies and questioned why, suddenly, the traffic studies are meaningless.
Commissioners who voted to recommend against rezoning also brought up other issues they said weren’t addressed in the site plan such as specific lighting questions, a landscape screen and pedestrian circulation.
But after the Aug. 4 planning commission meeting, Tarek Nahlawi, an Islamic Academy board member, said those issues had been discussed and resolved and called the commissioners publicly stating that they didn’t have the information “a cheap shot.”
Nahlawi said there haven’t been any adjustments to the plans since the planning commission meeting.
“We are meeting all the requirements and exceeding some of it, so why do we need to change anything?” he said via email on Wednesday. He added he doesn’t believe anything will change the outcome and the township has already decided against the proposal
Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal had no comment on the upcoming meeting.
The bulk of the complaints have come from residents in the Roundtree Apartments complex on Ellsworth and the Silverleaf subdivision located just to the property's west. The property was zoned as part of Silverleaf subdivision, and homeowners have said they bought their homes expecting the adjacent property to stay residential. The property was foreclosed and went back to the lender, and would have to be rezoned.
Officials from the school say they have tried to meet with neighbors in the Silverleaf to discuss issues multiple times, but they were either ignored or few residents showed up to meetings.
Officials say they have addressed every concern neighbors brought up and suspect residents simply don’t want a Muslim school there.
Plans call for a school that accommodates 360 kids, and previous plans to include a community center several years down the road have been scrapped. Nahlawi said the school has no plans for expanding beyond that number, its planned capacity.
The site is 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 driveway running in front of the school is designed to accommodate 70 cars and runs diagonally from Ellsworth to the new street. Nahlawi said the school, currently located on Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor, has nearly 200 students enrolled. Many families carpool, and the school also has two buses and vans, Nahlawi said, so there wouldn't be a situation where the traffic is backed up out to Ellsworth.
“A good percentage of our member community lives in Pittsfield Township,” Nahlawi said. “(The site) is 26.5 acres, which is more than enough for a school. It is among residential area, which is perfect for children. After all, schools are built around communities.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations recently sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice alerting them to the situation. Lena Masri, a CAIR and Islamic Academy attorney, said the department is not yet monitoring the case, but CAIR did send a letter detailing MIA and Cair’s concerns.
She said if the proposal is rejected, then the department could be asked to review the case.
"We hope that the township will not adopt the recommendation of the planning commission and allow Michigan Islamic Academy to move foreward with building a school," she said. "In the event of a denial, we are prepared to look into other options available to us, such as potentially asking for a justice department investigation."
She previously explained she believes the school’s religious rights could be violated because the township cannot deny a religious school the right to operate because of a minor impact on traffic and noise. She also underscored that the traffic studies have demonstrated that traffic volume wouldn’t significantly increase.