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Youkhanna v. City of Sterling Heights

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 28, 2017

KAMAL ANWIYA YOUKHANNA, et al., Plaintiff,
CITY OF STERLING HEIGHTS, et al., Defendants.


          GERSHWIN A. DRAIN United States District Judge


         On March 13, 2017, Plaintiffs Kamal Anwiya Youkhanna, Josephine Soro, Wafa Catcho, Marey Jabbo, Debi Rrasi, Jeffrey Norgrove, and Megan McHugh filed the instant 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Defendants City of Sterling Heights and its Mayor, Michael C. Taylor, alleging the Defendants violated their fundamental rights protected by the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as Michigan's Open Meetings Act, Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.263 et seq., by entering into a Consent Judgment with the American Islamic Community Center (“AICC”), which allows the construction of a mosque on 15 Mile Road in the City. See American Islamic Community Center, Inc. v. City of Sterling Heights, No. 1:16-cv-12920 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 10, 2017).

         Presently before the Court is the Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction, filed on March 17, 2017. Plaintiffs seek an order preliminarily enjoining the City from enforcing the Consent Judgment. The Defendants filed a Response in Opposition on April 3, 2017, and Plaintiff filed a Reply in support on April 10, 2017. On June 13, 2017, the Court granted Defendants' Motion to File Supplemental Brief. Plaintiffs filed a Response to Defendants' Supplemental Brief on June 14, 2017.

         On April 14, 2017, the Court granted the AICC's Motion to File an Amicus Brief.[1] Plaintiffs filed their Response to the AICC's Amicus Brief on April 19, 2017. On April 19, 2017, the AICC filed Supplemental Authority in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction. Lastly, the United States filed a Statement of Interest pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 517 on April 13, 2017. Plaintiff filed a Response to the United States' Statement of Interest on April 19, 2017.

         A hearing on the Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction was held on June 20, 2017. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction.


         The instant action stems from the AICC's ongoing efforts to have a mosque built in the City. The AICC is a Michigan nonprofit religious organization that serves the Muslim community in Macomb and Oakland Counties. The AICC community is comprised of 100 members that represent approximately 300 family members. The AICC selected the City because eighty percent (80%) of its members reside in the City. The AICC currently meets at a property located at 27205 Dequindre Road in Madison Heights, Michigan.

         The AICC offers a variety of services to the local Muslim community, including weekly Thursday programs, a Friday afternoon group prayer service, Sunday breakfast and youth program, a program for young children that teaches Arabic and the fundamentals of Islam, community retreats and other activities. The Friday afternoon service, which is called Jumma, is the most important service of the week for Muslims akin to Christian mass on Sunday. A mosque is the principal religious building of Islam, and paramount among its many functions is communal prayer. The architectural design is based on liturgical elements leading the participant to orient towards group prayer.

         In February of 2012, AICC members began searching for vacant property in the City on which a mosque could be constructed. In May of 2014, the AICC learned of real property along Fifteen Mile Road that was for sale that it believed was an ideal site for AICC's new mosque. The property consists of five contiguous parcels under single ownership. AICC currently leases the property and has an option to purchase it upon obtaining City approval to construct a mosque on the premises.

         Under the City's Zoning Ordinance (“SHZO”), “places of worship” are not permitted as of right in any of the City's 23 zoning districts. However, “places of worship” are expressly allowed in Residential (R-60) zoned areas through Special Approval Land Use (“SALU”) under the SHZO. To qualify, the place of worship must demonstrate the proposed construction meets the objective standards of the SHZO along with general discretionary standards listed for consideration in the SHZO. In contrast, the SHZO allows certain secular assemblies as of right in the R-60 zone, including “[c]ity-owned and/or operated libraries, museums, administrative offices[, ] parks and recreational facilities.” The specific standards set forth in the SHZO for special approval land use relate to height and setback requirements, a requirement that places of worship be on a major or secondary road, parking requirements, and requirements for auxiliary uses. Specifically, the specific standards are articulated in §3.02 of the SHZO and state:

The following uses, and other similar to those cited in this article, may be permitted by the Planning Commission subject to the general standards of section 25.02 and the specific standards imposed for each use:
A. Churches, synagogues, mosques and places of group worship, subject to the following:
1. Buildings of greater than the maximum height allowed in this district may be permitted, provided front, side and rear yards are increased above the minimum required yards by one foot for each foot of building height that exceeds the maximum height allowed.
2. All ingress to and egress from the site shall be directly onto a major or secondary thoroughfare having an existing or planned right-of-way width of at least 86 feet as indicated on the Master Road Plan;
3. Parking lot screening meeting the requirements for moderate intensity impacts shall be provided as required in section 24.01;
4. Such facilities may include related community centers, provided that such centers are limited to activities sponsored by church members only. Said facilities shall not be used as banquet facilities to the general public;
5. All principal and accessory buildings, except for accessory storage buildings, such as a shed or detached garage, shall maintain rear and side yard setbacks of at least 50 feet.

         The general standards for special approval land use include factors such as harmony with the neighborhood, safe traffic flow, and impact on the development or use of neighboring properties. Specifically, the general standards are articulated in § 25.02 of the SHZO, and state:


A. The proposed special approval land use shall be of such location, size and character that it will be in harmony with the appropriate and orderly development of the surrounding neighborhood and/or vicinity and applicable regulations of the zoning district (including but not limited to any applicable performance standards) in which it is to be located.
B. The proposed use shall be of a nature that will make vehicular and pedestrian traffic no more hazardous than is normal for the district involved, taking into consideration vehicular turning movements in relations to routes of traffic flow, proximity and relationship to intersections, adequacy of sight distances, location and access of off-street parking and provisions for pedestrian traffic, with particular attention to minimizing child-vehicle interfacing.
C. The proposed use shall be designed as the location, size, intensity, site layout and periods of operation of any such proposed use to eliminate any possible nuisance emanating therefrom which might be noxious to the occupants of any other nearby permitted uses, whether by reason of dust, noise, fumes, vibration, smoke or lights.
D. The proposed use shall be such that the proposed location and height of buildings or structures and location, nature and height of walls, fences and landscaping will not interfere with or discourage the appropriate development and use of adjacent land and buildings or unreasonably affect their value.
E. The proposed use shall relate harmoniously with the physical and economic aspects of adjacent land uses as regards prevailing shopping habits, convenience of access by perspective patrons, continuity of development and need for particular services and facilities in specific areas of the city.
F. The proposed use is so designed, located, planned and to be operated that the public health, safety and welfare will be protected.
G. The proposed use shall not be detrimental or injurious to the neighborhood within which it is to be located, nor shall such use operate as a deterrent to future land uses permitted within said zoning district and shall be in harmony with ...

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