Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Tricky issues: the zoning case of the mosque in Sterling Heights, Michigan

The City of Sterling Heights, Michigan is in the news ("Sterling Heights mosque deal cheered as 'win for religious liberty'," Detroit Free Press) because it just settled a case where a mosque had been denied an application to create a church on a lot zoned residential.

I can't claim to know the ins and outs of their zoning classifications, but I do know that in many cities, like DC, a church usually is a standard "matter of right" exception within zoning in that churches are allowed to be built across residential zones with few limitations.

Debbie Rosi, center, leads a protest of the construction of a mosque on 15 Mile Road in Sterling Heights, Michigan. They said they were concerned about traffic congestion and lowered property values.  Photo: John M. Galloway, Detroit News.

So it's hard to say if community opposition is because it was a mosque--feeding narratives about anti-Islam sentiments, and which has come up in other zoning matters elsewhere across the country, even in Northern Virginia ("In battle over proposed Prince William, some see Islamophobia" and "A smokescreen for bigotry: Disguising anti-Muslim bias with land use objections," Washington Post)--or because it is a residentially-zoned lot, in a community where religious uses aren't "matter of right."

The only way to answer the question is whether or not the community would have opposed a similar application by a religious institution practicing a Judeo-Christian faith (cf. "Zoning and religion," 2010).  According to the DFP article, the area is home to a Chaldean Christian community, which has expressed some opposition.

Photo: Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press.

I will say that I do believe that there should be restrictions on churches in terms of eliminating "blanket" matter of right use within residential zones.

Instead of blanket approval, I think that church uses should be zoned in a manner where they are placed on arterials and collector streets, rather than neighborhood streets, so that traffic impacts can be mitigated.

On that basis, the Mosque is proposed for 15 Mile Road, a major arterial that should have few problems in terms of accommodating additional traffic.

Basically, the point is that this would be a matter of right use, but with conditions.

Another condition would be a requirement to practice transportation demand management planning, and to discourage "mothballing" of properties ("Losing my religion: Shiloh Baptist Church and Neighborhood Destabilization," 2005) and to discourage the conversion of other residential properties to parking.

Traffic congestion is one of the points raised by opponents to the mosque.

Yesterday, the Post had an article, "A new crop of DC churches has discovered the secret of appealing to millennials," about trends in urban church practice, although I would say that my 2012 piece, "Sunday morning: Churches, religion, community and change," is far superior.

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