At the end of March we urged Meriden leaders to consider bending the rules to allow a mosque that has outgrown its Middletown space to find a new place on Research Parkway. Responding to a denial of its application, the mosque has now filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Planning Commission of violating its First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit has rather strong language, saying the commission “deprived the center of its right to the free exercise of religion as secured by (the fedeal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act) by imposing and implementing land use regulations in a mannger that places a substantial burden on the center’s religious exercise without using the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling governmental interest.”
It’s probably not necessary to get into those allegations. The city denied the request by sticking to its rules, with three reasons for denial: the M-4 manufacturing zone where the property is located is meant for inudstrial, office and commercial uses; the application did not fit in with the city’s Plan of Conservation and Development, and it did not meet the criteria for a special exception becuse it was “not congruent with the surrounidng land uses and it does not augment the primary use of land.”
Those reasons were worth setting aside, for the simple reason that the mosque was interested in moving to a place, at 999 Research Parkway, that has been vacant for the last 17 years. There is also a 110-space parking lot there in good condition. Because of the religious nature of a mosque it would qualify for a tax exemption, but plans called for renting offices, which would have brought tax money into the city.
The purpose might not have been appropriate for the zoning, but it seemed worth allowing an adjustment in order to have something there where there long had been nothing.
We still think the idea of granting the mosque the move to Meriden’s Research Parkway has merit. Avoiding a potential costly lawsuit now adds to the reasons a reconsideration would be a good idea.