The North Ridgeville City Council unanimously approved 7-0 a community center for the West Cleveland Muslim Association on Monday.
The proposal includes an 18,000-square-foot center with a prayer hall, classroom space and other facilities for a maximum capacity of about 1,200 people.
The application had been approved unanimously 4-0 by the Planning Commission during its March 26 meeting. Now that the Council has approved the application, it moves to the city’s Building Department.
At both meetings, North Ridgeville Mayor David Gillock expressed his support for approval of the approval.
“I want to reiterate that I support this initiative and the First Amendment to the U.S. constitution,” he said. “As the First Amendment says, religious freedom includes two complementary protections — the right to religious belief and expression and a guarantee that the government neither prefers religion over nonreligion nor favors particular faiths over others.
“As well, the Federal Religious Land Use Act provides handling applications such as this in the use of land and it does not allow excuses … such as lighting, traffic, noise … to deny such applications and they strongly recommend that they be looked at from a positive standpoint.”
Residents spoke up at both sessions, though fewer took the floor at the City Council meeting. Council President Kevin Corcoran opened the first lobby session with an advisory to stay on task, as it was limited to the action taken by the planning commission on March 26. Only two people spoke during the first lobby session.
Kirsten Penton Hill, of Amherst, listed several questions she had about the property, including how many people it would hold, if there was enough parking to serve the community center’s members and if it would create new traffic concerns for residents.
“What does community center mean? Does it mean education classes for children, education classes for teens, college-aged students, adults?” Hill asked.
Similar questions were asked by Ruth Bowden, of North Ridgeville. Bowden added that she was concerned there had not been a lot of publicity about the meetings concerning the community center, as well as the number of parcels listed as owned by the WCMA on the county auditor’s website. Corcoran said the auditor’s website may not be up to date and that all of Hill’s questions were about the use of the building, not the issue up for Council vote.
After Council had voted on the issue and discussed other matters, a second lobby session was opened. This one allowed participants to speak on any issue, whether or not it was on the Council’s agenda. Jim and Kim Stermole, of North Ridgeville, both said they were disappointed about how the Planning Commission meeting was run in March.
“At that meeting (four) men came up and decided to preach to us about their faith and I object that nobody shut them down,” she said. “…They were allowed to go on and on and on and there is a separation of state and church. And I felt very uneasy — that is not my faith, their Jesus is not my Jesus.”
Corcoran agreed that the meeting did get off tracks, but said that the councilman who ran the meeting had never done it before and that it is not easy to keep some meetings in check.
“Sometimes it maybe just takes a little more experience than maybe that gentleman had,” Corcoran said. “These types of controversial issues don’t come up often and then if that’s the first meeting that you get, unfortunately that’s a bad combination.”
In other business
Also on the agenda was therezoning of 5011 Case Road from an R-1 residential district to a B-1 business district. This was brought up at the last Planning Commission meeting, but it was passed on to the next commission meeting after it failed to get a majority vote. No City Council action was required. The next Planning Commission meeting is 7 p.m. April 10 in Council Chambers.
The Council then approved several readings, including an ordinance for the mayor to enter into an agreement with Eaton Township to provide certain services the houses at Windfield Farms, as the development is in the boundaries of both communities.
Residents in the area will be served by Eaton Township and the city of North Ridgeville, depending on what service they need. For example, Eaton Township will provide EMS, Fire and Police, while North Ridgeville will provide water services. The Council dispensed with the second and third readings and adopted it with its emergency clause.