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APRIL 20, 2015, 7:00 P.M.
 (return to index)
  1. Chair Derusha called the meeting to order.
  2. Roll Call
    MEMBERS PRESENT:  Les Derusha, Kemal Hamulic, , Robert Houtman, Richard Lenger, Alan Lipner, Russ Slater, Monica Sparks,
    OTHERS PRESENT: Director Terry Schweitzer, Planner Joe Pung, Staff Secretary Monique Collier, the applicants, and 3 residents
  3. Approval of the Minutes and Findings of Fact
Lipner noted the approval date in the minutes should read February 16
 Motion by Houtman, supported by Lenger to approve the minutes of February 16, 2015.     
  • Motion Carried (7-0) –
  • Public Hearing

Appeal #V-15-04

Applicant:                               Islamic Mosque & Religious Institute
Location:                                 3357 & 3375 East Paris Avenue, SE
Request:                                  The applicant wishes to expand their parking lot.  The expanded parking would have a front yard parking setback of 13 feet; a parking setback of 4 feet from the south lot line; pavement to within 1-foot of the south lot line; and no landscaping or vertical screen.  Section 8.03.B of the Zoning Ordinance requires a minimum front yard parking setback of 35 feet; Sections 8.03.C.2 & 17.06.C.1 require 45-foot parking setback and a 20-foot buffer, which includes a 6-foot vertical screen, along the south property line; and Section 19.03.C requires a 10-foot wide landscape buffer containing 4 canopy trees and 18 shrubs along the south property line.  The requested variances are for a reduction of 22 feet to the front yard parking setback; reduction of 41 feet to the parking setback from the south lot line and a waiver from the buffering and landscaping requirements along the south lot line.
A.M. Metwalli, Chairman of the Board of the Islamic Mosque and Religious Institute, represented the request. He stated in the planning process they did not anticipate the parking to be an issue. He stated the growth they have experienced in the last 3 years. He stated they have run out of parking spaces. He stated they have acquired the land that they want to convert into a parking lot, there was a building on it in which their religious leader was living. He stated the last couple of years they have been working with the Police Chief and Officer Bachman to try to resolve the parking issue and be a good neighbor. They do not want to create a problem for anybody. He stated they received permission to use the parking lot of the building across the street from them and Woodland Creek Apartment. The Police Department did not want the people going to the Mosque crossing the streets.  He stated the Mosque has been trying to think of what the best plan would be for the future. He stated they had wanted to acquire the houses across the street that were for sale, but they knew it would create a problem with the Police Department to have people crossing the street. He stated he ask the religious leader to move out of his property and they were able to get him a place about 3 miles from the Mosque, it is an inconvenience to the community because he was living next. He stated he is hoping to acquire the additional property to add a parking lot for the future because they are really locked and can’t go anywhere else. He stated they are limited development on both sides of their Mosque unless they go to the north and to the north of them and it is difficult property to acquire. They are putting it on their schedule if something comes along and they are able to acquire the property on the same side. He stated they are trying to avoid any kind of blockage especially on Friday which is their Sabbath for the Mosque. They are hoping to add as many parking spots as possible on that property to help out in the process. He stated they are trying to assure they do not have parkig a problem in that area at least for the next 5-7 years. He stated they have even considered a multi-level parking on that property but later found out that it will be extremely costly. He stated they have gone from one service to two services so they can get half of the community to come in for earlier services and the second half to come in the second service. He stated they know this was not going to last for too long as the community grows they will need that additional property.
Slater asked when are Mosque service times on Fridays. Metwalli stated they have a service time from 12:15-1:00 and the second service from 1:30-2:15.
Hamulic questioned how many parking spaces does he think he can get with the expansion. Metwalli stated he believes about 47.  Paul Henderson, with Rossien and Associates, stated the gross number is 53. Hamulic questioned if these 47 parking spaces will help for the next 5-7 years. Metwalli stated he prays that the parking spaces will help but he is not sure. Hamulic stated this is more of a temporary solution. Metwalli stated that is correct his other plan is to acquire the house next to the property and expand further, but this is the plan for 2016-2018. He stated he is planning for the future to avoid difficulty with the City of Kentwood. Metwalli stated if he finds property that will be suitable on the same side to the north they have that on the schedule also.
Hamulic asked if they could not go more west because of the flooding area. Paul Henderson Rossien and Associates stated that is correct you start getting into issues with the floodplain and the floodway also get into very large retaining walls because the grade is dropping off quite a bit.
Sparks asked about the Green Market Supermarket and could they share parking with them. Metawlli stated they currently use the parking lot for the Green Market too, and they have also been talking about acquiring the property next to the Green Market. Metwalli stated the houses came up for sale and they are above their community’s budget. Henderson stated right now they have 131 parking spaces on site and they will be adding 53.
Houtman questioned if they are permitted to fill back in the floodplain. Henderson stated there is a potential for that if you go through the permitting process; they will get into a section of the floodway and the DEQ won’t let them fill in that area. Henderson stated once you get close to the floodway point the DEQ will say no more. Houtman stated when and if they purchase the property next door they are going to have that same issue. Henderson stated they can increase some of the retaining wall heights, but it gets more expensive. They can continue with the same scheme across that property. Henderson stated they have developed several conceptual plans for the Mosque just to see how it might tie all together in the future. Discussion ensued.
Slater questioned if they were out at the property today since we have gotten all the rain and wanted to know how flooded it was in the back. Metwalli stated last week they had water, but today was not bad. Slater questioned the property they will be building the parking lot on do they intend to go up to the floodplain or into it. Henderson stated they do not intend to go into the floodplain they are constructing retaining walls. Lipner stated there is a fairly steep drop off from the road level on the piece of property.
Hamulic asked how many active members they currently have. Metwalli stated normally on the average 300 (those that provide support), but that utilization could run up to 1200. Metwalli stated they do not conduct their festivities in the building because they can get 2-3,000 people at one time. They don’t come in as a regular paid member. They come in to attend all the festivities; that is why they rent the Woodland Sports Arena on 28th street. Hamulic asked how many cars they have in the parking lot on a Friday. Metwalli stated their parking lot and the Greenmarket for both prayers are full.
Lipner asked how far back on the property will the parking lot be. Henderson stated the total depth of the parking lot is 120 feet. Right now they are proposing an offset of 13 so the back of the parking lot would be 133 feet from the right-of-way line. Lipner asked how far back is the parking lot from the existing property. Henderson stated it’s about the size of a parking space and a half about 24 feet to the sidewalk. Henderson stated if they extended the sidewalk it would end up crossing into the floodplain before you get to the south end of the parking lot
Pung displayed a pictometry of where they applicant wants to put his parking.
Houtman asked if they got permission to fill the floodplain would that less cost overall than a retaining wall. Henderson stated yes. Houtman asked what the possibility would be to get permission. Henderson stated if they get close to the floodway it might come up with potential issues; there is a process to get the permits. Metwalli stated the DEQ requires when you come in close to the floodplain to trade land, but he doesn’t have any land to trade. Henderson stated as far as timing, the applicant is willing to spend the extra money for the retaining walls to avoid going through the DEQ process. 
Derusha opened the public hearing.
Nelson Workema, 3212 Woodbury, in Woodbury Commons northwest of the property, was present. He stated it seems to him that there are other alternatives that could be used rather than granting the variance. Workema stated he does not see anything exceptional or extraordinary about the property. He stated he also has concerns of the precedent setting this particular case if this variance were granted; the request is general and that it is precedent setting. Another organization could come along and ask for the same type of variance and you can wind up with parking lots on East Paris. He stated he does not think the variance is necessary for the enjoyment for the property. 
Metwalli stated they have tried to work with the police department. They asked if they can utilize some of the police staff on Friday for crossing the streets and the Police Chief stated he does not have enough people to do that. Metwalli stated he then asked if he could hire security and the Police Chief stated he would rather not. He stated they have tried every option available. He stated he was considering if they could build a bridge, but it is still a danger. He stated their only option is to add the parking on their site. If they do not acquire Mr. Ayesh’s property he is going to try to build on his property 20-25 parking spaces to connect the three lots together.  He stated Aeyesh is one of their community members and he tries very much to help. He stated they don’t want to create a problem for the City they would just like to connect the three lots together.
Metwalli stated they are not like most businesses who go and borrow money and expand. They have to collect the money before they start any kind project. He stated they built their Mosque with no money borrowed, they received all community donations. He stated he will go back to the community and tell them he needs more money for the property next to them and he feels strongly Ayesh is going to help because it is helping Ayesh and the community.
Lipner asked if they were to acquire the property they will have their mosque then the next mosque and only parking lots in between. How will that effect the nature of the community or that street. Lipner stated there is a large parking lot across the street and a much larger parking lot between the two mosques. Lipner stated it will be a lot of parking that is only being used only on Friday their Sabbath. Metwalli stated Friday is the key and there is more activity in June, the month of fasting.  The parking lot is overloaded for 30 days because that is a holy month for them. He stated he is trying to think about the future maybe 3-4 years from now, that parking could be too small for the community. Metwalli stated the lower level in their building is a community meeting room and there prayer area upstairs is becoming crowded they are thinking of converting the downstairs into a prayer area. Metwalli stated he always plans for 5-10 years ahead. Discussion ensued
Lenger asked if there were any requirements as far as water retention. Pung stated that will go through the Engineering Department with regard to storm water. Henderson stated from a run off standpoint anytime you’re near a creek or river the best practice for storm water management is storm water treatment. Discussion ensued regarding stormwater treatment.
Schweitzer stated as far as working with the Police Department he has been in some of the discussions and the mid block crossing would be hard because this is a 5 lane roadway. He stated it is not only adults but there are children as well. He stated to have a safe crossing it would have to be grade separated with a bridge over the road or having the crossings take place at a signalized intersection the closest one is 32nd and East Paris Avenue. Schweitzer stated they looked at what the prospect would be to have a traffic signal at this mid-block location between 32nd Street and 36th Street and it wasn’t a good location to add another traffic signal. Schweitzer stated there has been a very thorough conversation and consideration of how to safely get people from one side of the road to the other.
Slater asked if there were any concern on the narrowness of setback on the proposed development. Schweitzer stated our typical would be a 30 foot setback and if we have the room it works well with all the sites in this suburban setting. Schweitzer stated trying to maximize the number of parking spots they have available for the congregation is the driving factor in terms of the setback that they are seeking. Discussion ensued.
Schweitzer stated further to the north floodplain is not an issue and therefore that aspect of this particular site is not typical for our office zoned properties throughout the community. Schweitzer stated if they are looking at acquiring the property to the south they could be back in seeking a similar variance. Schweitzer stated the exhibit in the packet portrays what the floodplain is as it goes further to the south and instead of going further away from the road it’s going to be closer to the road than the proposed property. Discussion ensued.
Dersuha questioned since this is a religious site do they have something going on 7 days a week, how often will the Mosque be utilized times/days. Metwalli stated their Sabbath is on Friday but prayer is conducted in the building 7 days a week. They have early prayer and they have prayer all the way up to 9:30-10pm at night. Derusha asked what the expectation of utilization of the parking lot during the off regular days. Metwalli stated anywhere between 40-50%. Discussion ensued.
Sparks asked if the variance isn’t granted what are their plans, do they plan on moving. Metwalli stated in their belief the Mosque will be there until the Day of Judgment they are not going anywhere. He stated the issue is they might build another facility someplace that is related to the current one. If they don’t have space to expand parking they will have to find a creative idea. He stated he would like to have a 5 level parking ramp built but their community can’t afford that.
Motion by Hamulic, upported by Houtman, to close the public hearing.
  • Motion Carried (7-0) -
    Houtman stated that point 1 is met there are exceptional topographical conditions with respect to the floodplain. Houtman stated point 2 is met, it is unique to the property as the condition of the topography on that property. Houtman stated point 3 is met because preservation and enjoyment might be better termed as occupation and capacity to worship. The purpose is for education and worship. He stated it is necessary to expand because we have heard all the options about not crossing the street and parking ramps.
    Lipner, Slater, Lenger, Hamulic, Sparks concurred. Derusha concurred adding if you don’t allow the variance that the problem does not go away by itself.
    Houtman stated point 4 is met if they carry through with their plan and if they purchase the home and it is converted into parking and it all becomes one continuous piece between the 2 Mosques it will actually be advantageous to the area and not detrimental.  Houtman stated point 5 is met it will not impair the intent or purpose of the ordinance. Houtman stated point 6 is met it wasn’t created by the applicant, it is created by growth.
    Lipner stated he is concerned on the expansion into a large parking lot on East Raris but he thinks 4,5 and 6 have been met.
    Slater stated his concern is the watershed in area and he would still like due diligence given to that, but he thinks point 4, 5 and 6 have been met,
    Lenger and Hamulic stated points 4, 5 and 6 have been met.
    Sparks stated she does not think point 4 has been met based on the neighbor from Woodbury. Sparks stated points 5 and 6 have been met.
    Derusha stated points 4, 5 and 6 have been met.
    Motion by Houtman supported by Lenger, to approve V-15-04
  • That there are exceptional and extraordinary circumstances or conditions applying to the property that do not apply generally to other properties in the same zoning district. He stated the topographical and environmental conditions due to the floodplain are exceptional and extraordinary and limit use of the large pat of the property
    2.      Due to the exceptional and extraordinary circumstances applying to the property, the condition or situation of the specific piece of property for which the variance is sought is not of so general or recurrent a nature as to make reasonable practical the formulation of a general regulation for such conditions or situations. Once you beyond the watershed the floodplain issue disappears,
    3.      That such variance is necessary for the preservation and enjoyment of a substantial property right similar to that possessed by other properties in the same zoning district and in the vicinity. Other properties in the area and same zoning district have the ability to add parking on a larger portion of their property.
  • The variance will not be detrimental to adjacent property and the surrounding neighborhood. It will be an improvement and increase safety by limiting the need for people to cross the road to attend services or events.
    5.      Due to the exceptional and extraordinary circumstances applying to the property, the variance will not impair the intent and purpose of this Ordinance.
    6.      That the immediate practical difficulty causing the need for the variance request was not created by any action of the applicant. It was created by the growth in membership and the limitations places on the use of the property by the floodplain
  • Motion Carried (7-0) –
    Derusha stated there still has to be an election of Officer which includes, Chair, Vice-Chair and Secretary.
    Motion by Lipner, supported by Hamulic, to retain the existing officers Derusha Chair, Lenger Vice Chair and Lipner Secretary
  • Motion Carried (7-0) -
    Motion by Lenger, supported by Lipner, to adjourn the meeting.
  • Motion Carried (7-0) –
    Meeting adjourned at  7:55p.m.
                                                                            Respectfully submitted,
                                                                            Alan Lipner, Secretary