June 19, 2014
A Davidson County judge Thursday upheld a decision by the Rutherford County Board of Zoning Appeals allowing burials at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro site.
Senior Judge Paul Summers, who heard the matter after all local judges recused themselves, dismissed a case filed by a group of residents opposed to the county-approved cemetery just off Veals Road at Bradyville Pike.
“The Rutherford County Board of Zoning Appeals did not act illegally, arbitrarily, or capriciously by approving the special use exception permit for the cemetery,” the judge concluded.
The judge found that the petitioners, led by Bonnie Golczynski, showed “no distinct and palpable injury” and, therefore, had no standing.
Summers also ruled that the BZA complied with adequate notice requirements for the Open Meetings Act for December 2013 and January 2014 meetings. He concluded that a special use permit issued for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro is valid and denied the petitioner’s request for the BZA to rehear the matter.
In addition, Summers dismissed all other claims of the petitioners and assessed them court costs.
Opponents contended, among other things, that the cemetery site is too close to nearby homes and sits in a low-lying area prone to flooding. They also say it will create extra traffic congestion in the area.
Lou Ann Zelenik, a spokeswoman for the petitioners, said she researched five years of BZA decisions and found that the board had turned down other requests because of concern about flooding.
Initial planning commission approval in 2010 led to a protracted lawsuit in which mosque opponents challenged whether the county provided adequate public notice of the planning commission’s vote. Chancellor Robert Corlew ultimately ruled against the county, but a federal judge reversed his decision and allowed the ICM to occupy its building.
What’s heartening about this saga, however, is how local government officials stood up for religious freedom. Despite strong public opposition, members of the county planning commission voted to treat the building application of the Muslim community like applications from any other religious community.
That took courage. At the height of the conflict, political candidates and anti-Muslim activists worked hard to whip up opposition to the Islamic Center in Murfreesboro and beyond. Even televangelist Pat Robertson weighed in, suggesting that county officials may have fallen victim to Muslims’ “ability to bribe folks” and warning of a future Muslim takeover of the city council.