Reeves Lends Weight to Mosque Opposition | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Reeves Lends Weight to Mosque Opposition

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Jackson Redevelopment Authority board member John Reeves said a November ballot initiative restricting eminent domain will hamper urban renewal around Jackson State University.

A former Jackson attorney says he sees parallels between his representation of Madison citizens against a proposed mosque and the plight of his own former home in south Jackson.

"There's no greater investment a person has than their own home," said attorney John Reeves, who is representing Madison residents who oppose the construction of a mosque in their neighborhood along Highway 51. "People put their life savings and life's work into their homes, and they rightly expect the character in their area to remain friendly to home-owners."

Madison city officials are backing away from an earlier agreement to provide sewer service to a proposed mosque on Highway 51, spurred by local residents who claim the proposed mosque, which would also be the site of the Mississippi Muslim Association's headquarters and a free clinic, runs counter to the single-family residential (R1) zoning of the surrounding area.

The Madison County Planning and Zoning board had earlier refused to approve the building permit for the mosque in April, after developers were unable to provide a commitment for sewer construction. Until recently, the city of Madison had claimed the future site of the Magnolia Islamic Center was in a certificated area that was cleared for sewage service by the city. Madison City Attorney John Hedglin told the Jackson Free Press that city employees discovered the error.

"Originally we believed that area was within its certificate of public convenience and necessity, but we were reviewing the documents and somebody said 'wait a minute. Go back over that description,' and in the end we realized that this site, although it is within one mile of the city and therefore within an optional area of service, is not within our certificated area," Hedglin said.

When the city realized the location was not in a certified area, city leaders determined that developers would need a master plan for the sewage. The sticking point in any master sewage plan is that it must be put together with the agreement of the future church's neighbors. If the neighbors have their way, however, the mosque will have no future in that particular spot.

Madison resident Rita Martinson, a state representative, is one of the possible neighbors fighting the building of the mosque. The Republican claims her opposition has nothing to do with the 5-acre plot potentially containing a Muslim church, and more to do with property values.

"We're fighting the request to put the mosque in on the premise that it doesn't fit in to the character of the area," said Martinson. "Everything in that area could eventually be zoned commercially, which would make a church look awkward, and it certainly wouldn't fit in with the agricultural farmhouses out there now."

Martinson also said she feared the arrival of one church would herald the appearance of other churches: "There's a possibility that if one church moves in a whole slew of churches will follow suit. That's what happened on Old Canton Road and Highland Colony," she said. "There are other areas that the mosque could locate, near other churches, where there is actually a line of churches."

Doug Pierce, Pastor of First Independent Methodist Church, said he had originally sought to purchase the disputed land for his own church, but was pushed out of the deal by the city of Madison.

"The owner agreed to sell us 10 acres, but the city would not allow us to buy it. It was something to do with the sewer as well as the location on Frontage Road. As I recall, the mayor did not want a bunch of driveways coming off that road. They would have to provide an access road so they wouldn't do that. We were caught in the middle. There was no way we could put a church there. There were some sewer issues as well, but I think the main problem was the road."

Pierce added that his congregation has since purchased land about a mile further up the road from the originally intended location.

Reeves said spot zoning would ultimately be required to move the church into the R1 designated area, but said the city of Jackson was an example of what happens when spot zoning is misused.

"You only have to look to Jackson to see how that has been abused. For 40 years the city government has granted spot zoning to service stations, and this or that, in residential areas and it has killed entire neighborhoods that were once vibrant and healthy," Reeves said. "People simply want their homes to be around other homes that are the same quality and character as their home. When it turns out that they're not, then they show their objections by moving, and that causes property values to decline."

The Muslim Association had been scheduled for a public hearing last Tuesday, before the Madison County Board of Supervisors, to appeal the county planning commission's denial of its zoning request. Members of the association did not show for the meeting (unlike a number of opponents to the mosque), so board members delayed the hearing on until Aug. 3.

With no certification for sewer service in that area, proponents of the mosque may approach the Mississippi Department of Health for a permit to build a personal sewage treatment plant for the 300-person building. Sewer lagoons and septic tanks are difficult to approve because a number of homes in the area still get their water from personal wells, which could come into contact with the mosque's septic run-off.

Even if mosque advocates get approval from the state department of health for their wastewater facility, they will have no easy time getting approval from the county for a special use exception, if neighbors remain opposed to the idea. Another of the criteria that Madison County ordinance requires applicants to prove is whether or not the facility is compatible with surrounding uses and is likely to improve the property values in the area. Opponents will dispute that argument, and are preparing a petition opposing the proposed construction, that will be presented to the board in August.

Previous Comments

ID
149457
Comment

Maybe I'm naive, but it's hard for me to decide whether this is a case of discrimination or just another example of authoritarian Madisonian zoning. These boobs with their phallic cell towers and Greek revival gas stations are crazy any way you cut it. However, the property value argument is suspicious and arbitrary, as it might only be an issue because people are bigots about the mosque.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2009-07-09T12:38:22-06:00
ID
149459
Comment

We're not done with the story, Brian. We'll report back as we learn more. We're expanding our news coverage more into the outer reaches of the metro these days, what with the Daily and all. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-07-09T12:42:31-06:00
ID
149463
Comment

You can bet that if this had been the First Baptist Church, Rita Martinson and the rest wouldn't be saying a thing. My only hope is that with John Reeves involved in an area of law about which he is clueless that the opposition will self-destruct.

Author
pigbodine
Date
2009-07-09T12:59:31-06:00
ID
149464
Comment

I'll wait on the rest of the story before give my official two cents. But so far the Madison citizens residents' case for zoning sounds weak.

Author
dd39203
Date
2009-07-09T13:01:05-06:00
ID
149466
Comment

A church of any denomination should not be a problem for these people, but a free clinic? I have no doubt about the motives and prejudices of many who don't want a mosque next door, but I wonder if this group would have fewer problems if they relocated the clinic and just built the mosque.

Author
lls32001
Date
2009-07-09T13:18:27-06:00
ID
149469
Comment

Recently spoke with Attorney Representing the Mosque. Plans for a clinic have been scrapped due to additional problems it was causing.

Author
Lacey McLaughlin
Date
2009-07-09T13:28:22-06:00
ID
149471
Comment

Well, then, I guess it boils down to prejudice, or the rabid "property value" worries up there, or both.

Author
lls32001
Date
2009-07-09T13:37:11-06:00
ID
149473
Comment

I'd put good money on property values. They don't care about much else except for that.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2009-07-09T13:46:09-06:00
ID
149478
Comment

I agree with Iron, if they denied the Methodists too I doubt if it's religious discrimination. LOL @ Brian ... the boobs with their phallic cell towers and greek revival gas stations... too funny.

Author
WMartin
Date
2009-07-09T14:07:22-06:00
ID
149486
Comment

Never underestimate the xenophobia of conservatives. What I read into the comments from the Methodists was that it was too much trouble for them, not that it was being actively opposed. I may be wrong. Madison County's problem with this with respect to any church seeking rezoning or special exception is the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), Pub. L 106-274, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 et seq. Especially with Rita Martinson talking about how the area will probably go commercial.

Author
pigbodine
Date
2009-07-09T15:29:09-06:00
ID
149495
Comment

POOP SCOOP..so it's about sewage? Or is it about freedom? How did the muslim community choose to build a place of religious worship in a conservative community? They may have recognized the value of the property and it's future appreciation. Knowing the close proximity to the City the possibility of annexation is all but certain. Utilities and sewer can only be forthcoming. No they didn't go about it the professional way by hiring a developer consultant who would have done the homework with the neighborhood associations,city,county government officials. A 13 story building can be built if you do your preparation. If Tulane University were building on the property would that be more attractive? Maybe they should buy the property and just hold it for investment. Afterall it is such valuable property. Freedom does have it's price.

Author
LAmi du peuple
Date
2009-07-10T06:45:55-06:00
ID
149504
Comment

Do we really need any more strip malls with empty store fronts and "For Lease" signs in Ridgeland or Madison? Perhaps the Mosque could move in to the empty store beside Lowes that was built before the collapse. Half of Renaissance is still empty as well. The commercial argument is weak.

Author
Jeffery R
Date
2009-07-10T11:36:44-06:00
ID
149514
Comment

It's not that the commercial argument is weak, so much as it doesn't really make sense. As a matter of zoning and the RLUIPA, what's the rationale for excluding a church in a commercial area, if that's where it wants to locate? And if it's going to continue to be zone residential, what's the rationale for excluding a church from a residential area. I can't think of any unless the fact that it's a Mosque might lower property values, which would be a illegal discrimination under the RLUIPA.

Author
pigbodine
Date
2009-07-10T13:40:45-06:00

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