Neighbors Battle Islamic Foundation Expansion

July 5, 2006

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

On July 5, 2006 The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, "When the Foundation for Islamic Education took over a 23-acre college campus in Villanova in 1994, Muslim leaders overcame neighborhood opposition by agreeing to abide by an array of restrictions, including limits on traffic, permanent residents, religious retreats and noise. Now, as the foundation seeks zoning permission to expand operations after 12 years of growth, it has had to admit it violated not only those covenants but also the original 1994 zoning order. Foundation leaders are pledging to be better neighbors from here on, but residents are proving a tougher sell this time. The Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board took up the expansion proposal in November. After a second hearing in May, James Greenfield, attorney for 26 neighborhood families, asked the board to reject the zoning application... It began operations at 1860 Montgomery Ave. after receiving a special zoning exception to use the residential property as a mosque for Islamic services and education. Muslim leaders cited a Main Line-area Islamic community at the time of 75 families, with growth projected to 150. In 1993, the foundation, a New York nonprofit religious group headed by Saudi businessmen, agreed to buy the campus of Northeastern Christian Junior College, the former Morris Clothier estate, for $2.7 million. About 60 families dropped opposition to the 1994 zoning change after agreeing on the covenants. The zoning board, incorporating some of the covenants in its order, then ruled that the foundation's plans posed no threat to public health, safety and welfare... Neighbors testified at the May hearing that they were especially concerned that the foundation could not provide much information on what groups used the grounds for retreats or assurances that the foundation supervised their activities." Homeless people, refugees from Turkey and a convicted child molester had all been sighted at the Foundation.