Bloomington residents file petition to force city council to address overuse of local park and neighborhood by Mosque
BLOOMINGTON, MN- People living near a Minnesota park are fed up with years of violations by a nearby Islamic mosque.
“Friends of Smith Park” (FOSP), an organization of residents living near the Dar al Farooq Mosque (formerly Al Farooq Youth and Family Center, 8201 Park Ave South in Bloomington), presented a “Petition of Redress” to the Bloomington City Council during the July 25, 2016 meeting. In the Petition, the group is asking that the city council enforce Bloomington’s laws by addressing years of violations of the Conditional Use Permit and Joint Use Agreement granted to the Dar al Farooq Mosque in 2011.
The resident’s 18 page petition drafted by attorney Larry Frost outlines years of violations of the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) and Joint Use Agreement (JUA) committed by DAF; contending that the City’s lack of CUP and JUA enforcement not only has resulted in residents’ diminished capacity to use and enjoy Smith Park.
Several members of the neighborhood community testified at the hearing. They say they fear for their personal safety when they attempt to enjoy Smith Park’s facilities along with heavy traffic that often exceeds the residential streets’ speed limit causing fear and concern for the children and other residents in the residential neighborhood.
The attorney says the city is violating the Federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) because the lack of enforcement by the city council gives “DAF a place above all other Bloomington religious groups or places of assembly” (FOSP Attorney Larry Frost, Bloomington City Council meeting, June 27, 2016).
Frost presented an outline of grievances contained in the Petition that the FOSP members were requesting the council redress. In a handout given to attendees of the meeting, the Petition was summarized as follows:
DAF is seriously harming our right to quietly use and enjoy our own property. That right is not only recognized as a foundational right in our law, but your Comprehensive Plan requires that quiet use be satisfied in order to grant a CUP in our neighborhood. DAF fails to satisfy the quiet use requirement by:
- Causing noise and light till 2:00AM one month a year;
- DAF scheduling events that are planned to end at midnight;
- DAF hosting an Islamic University when the previous City Manager said in a letter a university was not an allowed use;
- Causing high-speed traffic in excess of what the CUP anticipate every Friday;
- Heavy traffic threatening our kids and older neighbors who prefer retiring in our neighborhood;
- Violating our health laws, including improper disposal of asbestos, garbage left out and others.
- You have privileged DAF over all the other churches in Bloomington. (Resurrection Power Church applied right after DAF. You punished them for DAF’s violations by limiting them to less than full fire code occupancy, based only on Council member conjecture that Resurrection Power Church might someday do something that abused their position, like DAF had done. When Mount Hope church made a land use application to expand, Council member Wilcox openly said that the limits you placed on them were ‘Punishing a good church…because we are paranoid’ that Mt. Hope might become another DAF. The Council put Mt. Hope through the wringer because of DAF.) When you privilege one church and punish another, you violate RLUIPA on its face. There are several other churches who have valid RLUIPA complaints you would be hard put to defend after these statement made in open Council meetings.
- You put us at risk when you didn’t even ask DAF for the certificate of insurance the JUA requires they give you. When we asked about it, your emails show that neither you nor our civil servants followed up and made DAF prove they have insurance. Because you have not answered our requests for information yet, we don’t even know if DAF has insurance. A lawsuit by someone who is injured at Smith Park is potentially tremendously expensive. If DAF did not have insurance, you put us at hazard by once again not enforcing a provision of the JUA.
- Your staff accused those of us who spoke out of being ‘anti-islamic’ when all we ask is that you enforce the law. This makes many of citizens afraid to speak up, and that is wrong.
All we petition is that our Council keep your oath of office and have the courage to actually enforce our City’s Codes and the existing restrictions contained in the CUP and JUA DAF signed voluntarily, without changing our laws when DAF breaks them.
You can watch Frost submitting the petition in this video, you can see a flood of residents leave after the time for public comment runs out:
Issues Started Before City Granted Permit in 2011
Neighbors have made complaints about the Islamic center since before the Bloomington City Council approved the sale of the former site of the Lutheran Concordia High School to Dar al Farooq in May of 2011. During the May 16, 2011 city council meeting, resident Sally Ness warned the council about the chaos that could result with the school being used by Dar al Farooq. Ness’s testimony as recorded in the meeting minutes state:
. She said with that much additional parking, the neighborhood deserves a traffic study. She said an increase in additional parking needs from 48 spaces to 380 is just under an 800% increase in their neighborhood and yet no one ordered a traffic study. She said that makes for a dangerous situation in their neighborhood especially given the saturation of children in this location… She said if a study was done, the neighborhood was not consulted or notified about it…the said the proposed use is too large for the neighborhood and will negatively impact the residents. She said the City Attorney should not have advised the Council to approve the permit for fear of a lawsuit. Rather, they should vote on the facts specifically regarding capacity. She said some Council members don’t know the capacity of the building.
In an interview in an article published in the June 9, 2011 issue of the Bloomington Sun Current, DAF’s acting executive director, Hayder Aziz said, “In life you have to show some understanding for your neighbors…You hope and pray that your neighbors would do the same for you.” According to the article, “Part of DAF’s mission will be to coexist with neighborhood residents and respond to concerns that are raised when the building is operation.” Aziz is quoted further saying, “I’m really looking forward to making friends with my neighbors.”
Issues began before the CUP was completed and approved. Reports of numbers exceeding DAF’s stated number of attendees (200-400) began as early as April of 2011, before the final approval was given for the mosque by the city council. According to the City Council meeting minutes of April 18, 2011, the council was concerned about parking issues caused by more than double the number of stated visitors attending the DAF’s Grand Opening. Aziz assured the council members that the 900-1100 visitors at that time was a “one time event.”
However, media reports show that the issues have continued since then. In a 2012 article, activist, author and speaker, Pamela Geller (PamelaGeller.com) published a letter and photos sent to her by a Smith Park resident. The resident describes what has happened to the neighborhood since the mosque opened, stating that the impact has caused her once quiet neighborhood to be filled “with constant traffic,” and that during Eid, “my estimate was that 5,000 people ascended upon the neighborhood. They actually had people tell residents they could not use the park parking lot, that it was a private event.” Photos published by Geller show streets lined with cars.
Potential for Legal Action
As outlined in the Friends of Smith Park’s Petition for Redress, the issues have not gone away, nor has the Bloomington City Council addressed the issues in the form of consequences or retraction of the DAF CUP or JUA.
The violations listed within the Petition go beyond traffic and parking, extending to the DAF charging rent for the publicly owned Smith Park athletic fields, harassment by DAF members of neighborhood residents attempting to utilize Smith Park, exceeding fire code occupancy limits by two to five times the number of people allowed in the buildings, breaking city ordinances related to creating a nuisance, illegally “dumping” concrete on city land, and more.
The Friends of Smith Park Petition asks the City Council – their elected officials – to address the violations committed by DAF and warns of dire consequences if the issues are not addressed. Citing federal RLUIPA laws and the 14th Amendment (“Equal Protection Clause”), Frost warns that the City Council is, “irresponsibly exposing our city to grave risk of financial injury by violating its own codes, RLUIPA and the Minnesota and United States Constitutions.”
Included in the Petition are numerous mentions of a Minnesota Data Practice Request filed in June that has yet to be fulfilled by the City Clerk. Frost and the members of FOSP are hopeful that more information will be revealed once the Data Request is processed.
This is a developing story; more information will be provided as it becomes available.