Maine Township Plan Commission endorses Islamic community center proposal
The Park Ridge-based Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America is looking to open the Sabeel Center at 8800 W. Ballard Rd. in unincorporated Maine Township. | Jennifer Johnson~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 29, 2012 4:28PM
The Maine Township Plan Commission this week voted to back a proposed community center operated by an Islamic food council.
The commission on June 25 voted 3-1 in support of the special-use permit requested by the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America to operate the Sabeel Center in a former synagogue, at 8800 W. Ballard Road, in unincorporated Maine Township.
“I think it’s going to be a betterment for the neighborhood,” said Interim Chairman Peter Stachiw.
Commissioner Mary Childers cast the only vote recommending that the Maine Township Town Board protest the special use if it goes before the Cook County Board of Commissioners for final approval. Childers questioned claims by IFANCA representatives that the center would not conduct a number of activities drawing large crowds when the organization had paid $1.8 million for the property and was planning another $1.5 million in renovations. Such an investment, Childers theorized, would warrant more participation.
“It just doesn’t make any business sense, in my mind,” she said.
The Cook County Zoning Board of Appeals is currently considering the special-use request and will make a recommendation to the County Board.
The Maine Township Plan Commission had initially met June 19 to consider the matter, but the meeting was rescheduled to June 25 after commissioners learned that township officials had not notified Sabeel Center representatives of the meeting.
About 25 citizens attended this week’s meeting at Maine Township Town Hall in Park Ridge and three addressed the project, which calls for exterior and interior renovations to the existing building. Potential crowds, congestion and noise were concerns of neighbors Mevlo Hoxha and Roberta Schaffer. A third resident appeared to object to the facility’s association with Islam.
“America is a Christian and Jewish country,” said Natan Koyfman, of Parkside Drive, who also made reference to the close proximity between a mosque on Potter Road in Des Plaines and the community center, referring to the Sabeel Center as IFANCA’s “church.”
“It is not a religious institution; it’s a community center,” project architect John Kelly replied.
IFANCA is a nonprofit organization that certifies food as halal, or conforming with Islamic dietary laws. The organization also acts as a consultant to many food-and-beverage companies and governments around the world.
The Sabeel Center, according to IFANCA representatives, will provide gathering space, adult and youth classes, cooking demonstrations of halal preparation, halal nutritional education and a library.
IFANCA President Muhammad Chaudry said most meetings and events at the center will not run past 9 p.m. or generate large gatherings. He identified four annual events that will draw bigger crowds — two Islamic holidays, as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations — but said they will not number more than 150 people. Events will be conducted inside the building, IFANCA attorney John Pikarski said.
“We want to make this neighborhood better, not worse,” Chaudry said.
In other action the Plan Commission, with the exception of Childers, supported a special-use permit for a horoscope-and-astrology business inside a home at 2834 W. Golf Road, in unincorporated Glenview, adjacent to Liquor Barn. The commission did, though, vote that the Township Board object to a petitioner’s request for a sign on the residential property.