Last week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Islamic Center of North Fulton, Inc. v. City of Alpharetta, Georgia, that the City and Islamic Center must work together to try to resolve a zoning dispute surrounding the Islamic Center’s proposed expansion of its facilities. This ruling came after a federal district court dismissed the Islamic Center’s RLUIPA and constitutional claims related to the City’s refusal to approve the Islamic Center’s plans to significantly expand its religious facilities.
In 2010, the Islamic Center sought a permit to expand its present facilities – two 2,500 square foot structures – and create a 12,032 square foot mosque and 1,910 square foot community hall on its four-acre property. The City Council unanimously denied the request, citing as support for its decision an apparent promise the Islamic Center had made in 2004 not to seek further expansion of its facilities.
The Islamic Center asserts that its current facilities are inadequate to meet the needs of its approximately 600 members, and that the City’s decision to deny its expansion plans imposes a substantial burden on the Islamic Center’s religious exercise, in violation of RLUIPA. In contrast, the City claims the Islamic Center has not been unfairly targeted because of its religious nature, and that the Islamic Center itself created the burden by choosing to purchase and build on a four-acre tract of land that was surrounded by homes.
One of the judges noted that this “case cries out for some kind of settlement,” and further provided that if the parties could not come to some sort of agreement within 120 days, the Court would be forced to make its own ruling and one party would lose.
For more information, see https://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/alpharetta-islamic-center-return-to-mediation/nWNTr/ and https://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/local/court-orders-alpharetta-mosque-work-out-difference/nWNhN/.
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