In March in this space last year, and again in May, we urged Meriden leaders to consider bending the rules so that a mosque that had outgrown its space in Middletown could move to Meriden.
The reasons seemed reasonable: One was that the space in question, at 999 Research Parkway, had been vacant for 17 years. An adjustment seemed worth it because it meant having something where there had long been nothing. A second was that while the religious nature of a mosque would qualify it for a tax exemption the plan also called for renting offices, which would have brought in tax dollars.
“Avoiding a costly lawsuit now adds to the reasons a reconsideration would be a good idea,” is how the May editorial ended.
The City Council just passed a resolution to pay up to $45,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the mosque. Because it’s a pending case, city officials have opted not to comment, and did not discuss it before the vote during a recent virtual meeting. Council Majority Leader David Lowell said, “I think the resolution is explicit in its intent, and I recommend adoption.”
The council also issued a “strong” recommendation that the Planning Commission reverse its March 2019 decision to deny the application. In that 5-0 vote, members of the commission had felt the property was better suited for industrial or commercial uses.
Representatives of the mosque appealed that decision in the federal lawsuit, arguing the application met the criteria for a special permit, which would under zoning regulations allow for uses that include a house of worship. The lawsuit also charged the commission had “created a reason for denial that no place of worship could surmount.”
“Rules are rules, but there are times when it’s worth considering bending them,” stated the March 2019 editorial. “That’s what a special permit is about, after all, when it comes to zoning regulations.”
Now the Planning Commission has followed the urging of the council and reversed its decision rejecting the mosque plan.
Obviously a lot of trouble could have been avoided had the commission been able to see its way toward a special permit in the first place. If there’s a lesson here it’s perhaps the desirability of taking a more accommodating view of these types of applications.