A settlement has been reached between the city of Lilburn and the federal government concerning a lawsuit that was filed as a result of the city council’s rejection of a mosque expansion plan presented by Dar-E-Abbas Shia Islamic Center. The members of the mosque believed the denial for expansion was based on religion while opponents of the mosque expansion said they were concerned about the increased traffic that they feel will destroy the residential neighborhood.
The suit alleged the city violated the “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000” when it rejected the center’s request for rezoning so the mosque could be expanded. The dispute led to a Department of Justice investigation in addition to the lawsuit.
As part of the settlement, the city of Lilburn has agreed not to impose different zoning or building requirements on Dar-E-Abbas or other religious groups, and to publicize its nondiscrimination policies and practices. The city also agreed that its leaders, managers, and certain other city employees will attend training on the requirements of RLUIPA.
The city has also agreed to adopt new procedures that clarify the complaint process for zoning and permitting decisions involving houses of worship, and will report to the Justice Department periodically.
RELATED: Lilburn City Council to reconsider Mosque expansion plan
The mosque expansion was approved earlier this month when the Lilburn City Council voted 3-1 in a special-called public hearing on the matter. It was the third time the issue was brought to a vote. The council denied the original request in December 2009 by a 4-0 vote, then voted on a revised plan that called for less acreage and deadlocked 2-2 in December 2010. The request could not be approved without a simple majority and while opponents of the plan thought the matter was decided, the mosque congregation presented an updated plan that included six minor changes that addressed concerns voiced by the council. The updated plan had enough changes to swing the vote of Councilman Eddie Price from a no to a yes.
Dar-E-Abbas is now free to move forward with its plans to build a 20,000-square-foot mosque at Lawrenceville Highway and Hood Road.
An overflow crowd filled the City Hall auditorium and about 30 people were turned away after the hall had met its 150-person limit. A little more than half of those in attendance opposed the expansion and began chanting “recall” after the vote. Those against the expansion told the council their objections are not related to religion but are legitimate concerns over water runoff, traffic, noise and safety.
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