Meriden considers zoning change after mosque denial, DOJ lawsuit

Meriden considers zoning change after mosque denial, DOJ lawsuit

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MERIDEN — Officials are requesting a zoning ordinance amendment that would establish places of worship as “a permitted use by right” in city districts zoned for commercial and industrial use.

The existing language in those sections lists places of worship as permitted uses “subject to issuance of a special permit.”

The proposed amendment would remove places of worship from those sections. It would add new words, “religious assemblies and institutions including places of worship, parochial schools, meeting rooms, and recreation facilities customarily accessory to such uses,” to the sections of the zoning ordinance listing permitted uses of right. 

Paul Dickson, the city’s acting City Planner, explained the proposed amendment is set to be taken up by both the Planning Commission and the City Council. The council, which has the authority to amend zoning regulations, is expected to hold a public hearing, which would likely be held remotely, on March 16. The council’s Economic Development, Housing & Zoning Committee is also expected to review the proposal. 

The Planning Commission is also expected to review the proposed amendment during its March meeting. 

City Council Majority Leader David Lowell, who chairs the Economic Development, Housing & Zoning Committee, could not be reached Wednesday for comment. 

Last fall, Meriden officials agreed to review and amend the local zoning ordinance to settle a complaint against the city and Planning Commission filed by the U.S. Department of Justice over the commission’s denial of a mosque’s application to move into a vacant building at 999 Research Parkway. 

According to the terms of a consent order signed by city officials and the office of U.S. Attorney John H. Durham, local officials agreed to amend multiple sections of Meriden’s zoning ordinance “so that it treats religious assemblies and institutions on equal terms with comparable nonreligious assemblies and institutions.” 

Separately, city officials and legal representatives for the mosque, Omar Islamic Center, have yet to finalize a settlement on the federal lawsuit the mosque filed against the city in 2019. Legal filings show that despite having convened multiple remote settlement conferences between July 2020 and January 2021, “ultimately no settlement came to fruition.”

According to a motion for a new scheduling order filed jointly by attorneys representing Omar Islamic and the city, both parties have determined they need to conduct “further written discovery and take additional depositions” in the matter. 

The joint motion, filed on Jan. 15, requests new deadlines, including July 30, 2021 for the completion of written discovery and Sept. 30, 2021 for depositions of fact and expert witnesses. 

In its federal complaint, Omar Islamic claimed four violations of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, including substantial burden, religious discrimination, unreasonable limitation and unequal terms.


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