With a federal lawsuit hanging over their heads, DuPage County Board members Tuesday reversed a resounding decision they made last year and voted to allow an Islamic prayer center to operate in a single-family house near West Chicago.
The 10-7 vote will permit the Islamic Center of Western Suburbs to use the house on Army Trail Road near Smith Road as a gathering place for up to 30 of its members at a time.
In May 2012, the board voted 15-3 to reject the group's plans, which also include holding indoor-only worship services five times a day and construction of a 20-space parking area on the 2-acre property.
In August, the group sued the county in federal court, alleging discrimination and charging that new zoning standards that the county put in place after the group submitted its application were in violation of federal laws protecting religious groups' right to gather.
In an effort to settle the suit, a federal judge ordered the county's zoning board to take another look at the group's plans, which apart from a modification to the site's drainage were the same as those previously submitted. The zoning board voted 5-2 Thursday to recommend approval, and the county's development committee then voted 5-1 earlier Tuesday in favor of the project before the full board voted.
Neighbors have objected to the plan, insisting that the home's use as a prayer center is incompatible with surrounding single-family homes. They also complained about added traffic, flooding and a negative impact on property values.
Neighbors on Tuesday charged the board with acting out of fear of the pending lawsuit. In 2010 the board had voted to reject plans for an Islamic educational center and place of worship near Naperville, prompting that center's leaders to sue the county in federal court. Earlier this year, a judge reversed the board's decision.
"I urge you to refuse to be bullied by the lawsuit into approving it," neighbor Maryanne Fox said before the vote.
Board member Jim Zay, R-Carol Stream, who voted against the project, criticized the Islamic group for wanting to locate in a residential neighborhood.
"I haven't gotten one email from anybody in favor of this," he said. "Nobody else from the community came in and said this is a great thing — only the attorney for the petitioner."
County Board member Sam Tornatore, R-Roselle, stressed that the legal action played no part in his decision to support the plans.
"For me, with the facts in front of me, it's the right thing to do," he said.
The lawsuit remains pending, but Mark Daniel, attorney for the Islamic group, called the approval a "first step" toward resolving the case.