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Alpharetta issues response to Islamic Center appeal
by Rachel Kellogg
rkellogg@neighbornewspapers.com
August 30, 2012 06:37 PM | 1345 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In response to an appeal filed by the Islamic Center of North Fulton, the city of Alpharetta has submitted a brief to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

According to City Attorney Sam Thomas, the brief “substantiates that the District Court Judge applied the correct standard in determining that the actions of the city in this matter did not rise to the level of creating a substantial burden on the exercise of religion by the Islamic Center of North Fulton.  Specifically, the alleged burdens either existed at the time it acquired the property, are self imposed, or are mere inconveniences, distractions and routine maintenance issues.  Secondly, the District Court was correct in determining that the city did not discriminate against the Islamic Center of North Fulton on the basis of religion, or treat the Center differently than any other similarly situated property in the city.  The Islamic Center of North Fulton’s proposed expansion is simply out of scale in size, mass and scale to the property and the surrounding area.”

The appeal by the Islamic Center was filed after U.S. District Judge J. Owen Forrester sided with the city on their decision to not allow the worship center to expand the size of its building on Rucker Road from 2,500 square feet to 13,942 square feet.

The center filed the lawsuit after their expansion request was denied in May 2010.

The lawsuit stated the city “unlawfully imposed and implemented a land use regulation that imposes a substantial burden upon the rights of the Islamic Center and its parishioners to the free exercise of religion by means that are not the least restrictive available to the city to protect its asserted governmental interest.”

It also said the city has "unreasonably" limited religious assemblies and "has discriminated against Plaintiff, on the basis of its religious denomination."

But the city has maintained that religion played no role in the decision and in September 2010, Thomas said "the council did not feel that the expanded scope of the project was suitable at this site for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to, the fact that the center pledged not to seek expansion of the project at the time the use was originally approved.”

The center is located in a mostly residential area and residents of nearby neighborhoods said the center's leaders promised not to expand on the site.

A major concern for residents in the area was the possibility of increased traffic brought on by a larger building, which could attract more members.

But the center's members said they wanted to resize to accommodate current members — not attract new members.
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