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The Hillside Islamic Center is suing the Town of North Hempstead for rejecting its plan to expand into three adjacent lots, including this vacant one. (Credit: Joe Morreale)

Hillside Islamic Center Files Suit Over Construction Plans

After months of consideration and back-and-forth discussion, the Town of North Hempstead’s town board recently voted against a revised proposal by the Hillside Islamic Center to expand its facilities, having previously rejected the Center’s prior proposal in January.

In response, the Hillside Islamic Center has now filed suit against the Town, arguing that the Town of North Hempstead board “exceeded its power” in denying the Center’s site plan, including a three-story building addition and several dozen parking spaces, for its current site and the three adjacent lots it purchased.

In response to the lawsuit by the Hillside Islamic Center, which is located at 300 Hillside Avenue in New Hyde Park, the Town has retained legal representation for this matter.
Umberto Mignardi, Public Information Officer for the Town of North Hempstead, commented by email, “The town board voted against the proposal for public safety concerns and the Finding of Facts document makes it clear that the expansion would indeed have a detrimental impact on traffic safety as well as the safety of congregants.”

“In light of the Center’s lawsuit challenging the decision, the town board voted to hire outside counsel to defend the town. The Uniondale-based law firm of Sahn Ward Braff Koblenz Coschignano PLLC was selected for their expertise in land use litigation. The matter is now with the courts, so we’re not able to comment further, at this time.”

According to the Town’s November 14 minutes on the matter, the Center’s plan is “to construct a three-story 6,600 s.f. addition to an existing two-story 5,428 s.f. religious building, including expansion of the parking lot into two adjoining parcels and the installation of two new curb cuts, on a 0.9-acre lot located at 300 Hillside Avenue, New Hyde Park and identified on the Nassau County Land and Tax Map as Section 8, Block 3, Lots 6, 11 and 13.”

According to the Center’s Article 78 lawsuit, “Under New York law, religious use of property is presumptively beneficial to the community and is entitled to preferential treatment in land use determinations, pursuant to which municipalities must strive to exercise greater flexibility when considering an application for religious use and make every effort to accommodate religious use … Respondent’s Resolution failed to comply with, or even acknowledge, the presumption and preference that should have been afforded to Petitioner’s religious use, and therefore must be reversed.”

The Town Board’s most recent decision, delivered in early March, noted that current state law “does not mandate that the board approve an application made by a religious institution, as the general presumption that religious institutions are beneficial, and are entitled to accommodation, can be rebutted with evidence of a significant impact on traffic congestion, property values, municipal services and other similar negative impacts.”

“For all these reasons,” the board wrote in its March 5 decision, “and as shown in the testimony and evidence, the Board finds that the size, scale, scope, and design of the Site Plan is incompatible with the community and neighborhood, and the general welfare of the public.”

The decision has split Town of North Hempstead board members along party lines, with Democrats consistently voting to approve the plan.

Last October, the Town’s building department halted construction at the mosque and community center over concerns about steel work early on in the expansion process. According to Island Now, Hillside Islamic Center President Abdul Aziz Bhuiyan said the main change in the plans was the removal of a column in the center’s main hall on the first floor.

Bhuiyan told Island Now in February, “We wanted to get the plan with the amendments changed. The building department suggested since we’re making that change, to submit them and then they would inspect the work.”

The Hillside Islamic Center has cited its growing congregation in its efforts to expand, and has argued that the additional parking spaces would help reduce traffic congestion in the area during popular services and events.

Opponents of the plan have argued that the plan would increase traffic congestion in the area, and generally wasn’t to scale for the neighborhood.

Prior to the lawsuit, and the Town’s most recent decision, the issue had been a frequent topic at Town of North Hempstead board meetings in recent months.

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