Michigan Township Rejects Zoning Change for Construction of Islamic School

A township near Ann Arbor has turned down a proposed zoning change that would allow construction of an Islamic school that has outgrown its current home.

The Pittsfield Township Board of Trustees on Wednesday rejected the Michigan Islamic Academy's request, Michigan Radio reported (http://bit.ly/sZlnLi ). The township's planning commission earlier rejected the plan, but the township trustees had the final say.

The school wants to move to the Washtenaw County community because it is too big for its location in Ann Arbor. Opponents of the plan raised worries over traffic and other issues if the Michigan Islamic Academy built a school near a residential area.

In making their decision, the trustees cited concerns that the school would add traffic to an already heavily congested road.

Lena Masri, an attorney with the academy and the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the decision was disappointing. She said a court challenge could be made or a request for U.S. Department of Justice intervention could be made.

"I believe this is a blatant infringement of MIA's constitutional rights," Masri said.

The Michigan Council on American-Islamic Relations has been watching the case, saying traffic could simply be an excuse to conceal prejudice. The group has said rejection by the township could violate a federal law that protects the property rights of religious groups.

Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal denied that the school's religious affiliation affected the trustees' decision.

"We are an open, respectful and diverse community here in Pittsfield Township" Grewal said. "We have a track record, most recently the planning commission approved a mosque."

At Wednesday night's meeting, several people encouraged the Michigan Islamic Academy's leaders to find another location in Pittsfield Township, about 35 miles west of Detroit, to build the school.