Zoning attorney to represent residents


Residents living near the site of a proposed mosque at 4846 N. Elston Ave. have hired a zoning attorney to represent their concerns about the project.

The attorney, John Pikarski Jr., was present when several area home owners recently met with Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th) at her ward office.

Laurino spokesman Manuel Galvan said that the alderman is trying to arrange a meeting between the residents and representatives of the Islamic Center of Chicagoland. A community meeting on the proposal was held in 2014, but project officials did not apply for a permit to allow religious assembly on the commercial site until this year.

Area resident Kevin Stringer said that Laurino referred to the proposal as a sensitive issue and said that it may be difficult to stop due to First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion. The decision on whether to issue the special use permit will be made by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The mosque would operate in an existing commercial building on a triangular parcel that is bordered on all three sides by alleys, which run parallel to Lawrence, Elston and Kentucky avenues. One of the alleys runs behind a row of bungalows on Kentucky.

There is no direct access to the site from a street, but a community center which would be affiliated with the mosque would operate across one of the alleys in a former auto body shop at 4860 N. Elston Ave. The center’s parking lot would be accessible from Elston.

Stringer reported that Laurino told residents that the city may vacate the alley that runs parallel to Elston and close it to vehicles to allow safer pedestrian access to the mosque because there is little setback from the alley to the building. However, closing the alley would force more traffic onto other alleys and streets in the area, Stringer said.

Traffic on Elston often backs up during the evening rush hour, and bringing an estimated 100 to 150 visitors to prayer sessions at the mosque would increase traffic and parking congestion, Stringer said.

Stringer said that he hopes that a more appropriate location for the mosque can be found. He said that he does not believe that the concerns of residents can be addressed given that the parcel has no access to a street.

Residents would object to any proposal that would bring a high number of visitors to the site, and they hope that the city will reject the permit request based on zoning and traffic issues, Stringer said.