After months of debate among residents, it finally appears that the Islamic Life Center will have a home in Carmel.
After listening to nearly five hours of testimony from the public at its second meeting, the Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals voted 3-2 to approve the mosque’s construction at 141st Street and Shelborne Road.
“It feels amazing,” said Altaf Hussain, a member of the Al Salam Foundation after the vote. “We’ve been living here for 30 years, and now we have a mosque so close, and proximity matters. It’s good for us and it’s good for the greater Carmel community.”
BZA commissioners Brad Grabow, Dennis Lockwood and Leo Dierckman voted in favor of the center with Alan Potasnik and Jim Hawkins voting against it.
The Al Salam Foundation has been developing plans for a 35-foot-tall building with a footprint of 13,000 square feet. The City of Carmel’s planning staff recommended the project, but some neighboring residents have raised objections, notably about traffic, noise and the size of the building.
Paul Reis, an attorney with Krieg Devault who represents the petitioner, said the plans have been revised to reflect the concerns of the neighbors. He said the petitioner has made commitments to not use outdoor loudspeakers for calls to prayer and to only build on five acres of the 15-acre property. Reis said a traffic study concluded that the mosque should not have a “detrimental impact on traffic.”
Many of the 200 speakers at the meeting gave an emotional plea for inclusion and diversity.
Aza Sayed of Bear Creek Estates said the worship center would be a milestone for Carmel.
“Ever since I was young I was afraid to tell people that I was Muslim,” she said. “I was afraid of what they’d say to me or what they’d think of me. All I wanted was a place of worship … we want to show you that we belong in Carmel.”
Michael Cloud, a Carmel resident, said he thinks the Islamic Life Center would be an improvement to what’s currently on the land.
“This worship center is the best possible use in Carmel,” he said. “I understand we’re running out of land and something will be built there at some point.”
The first person to speak out against the mosque claimed he “opposed the spread of Islam.” But others in opposition focused solely on zoning matters. Most praised the mosque’s mission but said the piece of land isn’t appropriate for the size of the building.
Ingrid Muse of Overbrook Farms strongly opposed the development because she said it’s not big enough for the congregation.
“They’re already at capacity,” she said. “Just because it’s an allowable use doesn’t mean it should be approved.”
Michelle Pellicone of Overbrook Farms said the petitioner has yet to disclose the complete plans.
“The opposition has never been about religion,” she said. “We just want to know the plans.”
Mike Andreoli, an Zionsville attorney representing some in opposition, said he doesn’t see many changes in the new plan.
Hundreds of people filled the entire floor level of the Palladium for the meeting, with some overflowing to the upper floors of the concert hall. Approximately 700 people were in attendance, many donning blue ribbons to display support for the mosque. When asked to stand to show support or opposition to the project, those in support outnumbered those opposed it.
More than 200 members of the public signed up to speak, and they were instructed to only talk for one minute each. At the first meeting on Jan. 22, 40 of the 41 speakers were against the proposal. About 300 people attended that meeting, with about 100 people wanting to attend but unable to fit in the space at the Monon Community Center.
At the second meeting, the BZA pleaded with the crowd to limit the speaking time and to not repeat comments that were already made, yet the meeting lasted for more than five hours.
“There were so many people, and they all deserved a right to speak,” Potasnik said. “It’s an emotionally-charged issue on both sides.”