After weeks of closed-door meetings and public hearings, officials in Norwalk, Conn., have agreed to settle a two-year legal battle with a local Muslim group that was looking to build a mosque. The case highlighted a federal law that some in Norwalk felt left the city vulnerable to litigation.
The Common Council unanimously agreed to a payout to Al Madany Islamic Center of more than $1 million in damages and legal fees. About $300,000 will be paid by the city's insurer.
The settlement also calls for the city to buy the contested mosque site at 127 Fillow Street for $585,000 and to pay up to an additional $215,000 in site preparation costs for a new location. In exchange, Al Madany will drop its discrimination claim in federal district court.
Resident Kimberly Grimm lives next door to where the mosque had been proposed. She thanked the Common Council for approving the settlement agreement.
"It's just an unfortunate situation. And what I would aks you, Mr. (Harry Rilling) Mayor, going forward, for you to do something about it and for you to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Some members of the council called for an overhaul of the city's zoning laws.
Al Madany sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA. The federal law prohibits local land use regulations from discriminating against religious institutions.
Al Madany claimed its plan met all local regulations, yet the Zoning Commission denied it a special permit to build in the residential neighborhood. City officials said Norwalk faced millions of dollars in liability if it lost at trial.
But Al Madany congregants said the settlement is a compromise for them, too. Hussein Kadry is on the board for Al Madany.
"Not everyone is satisfied. But it's a give and take situation, which paves the way for a future of working together," he said.
Part of that collaboration will be to help find a new location. The city's mayor and corporation counsel are among the officials who will help in the search, per the settlement.