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Community Newsclips

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

After Glenview Watch detailed the number of dead or dying trees newly planted along Lake Avenue, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin called the county highway department.  Construction supervisor John Beissel replied in writing, saying the county has suspended further plantings due to the on-going drought.  He said the subcontractor, who had put about 80 percent of the saplings in along Lake, was watering more often and would assure that material used to tie the root balls ? burlap and rope -- was removed before mulch was placed around the trunks. 

Meanwhile, Glenview crews are working overtime to water up to 4,000 relatively new trees on public property ? most at The Glen.  After calculating the cost to replace dead saplings, the village concluded it was worth the effort to assure those young trees survive.  Assistant Director of Public Works Chris Clark could not say how much was being spent for crews manning six water trucks, but he said residents are using a lot more water on their private yards, and that will translate into more water revenue for the village.

About 100 residents of an area near Shermer and Golf are again gearing up to fight new development.  In 2002, they organized to stop or limit plans for an assisted living center called Belmont Village, which was eventually built.  Now, residents are worried about the impact of a proposed religious center to be built by a progressive group of Muslims with roots outside the Arab world --  in Pakistan, India and East Africa.  The Ismaili Muslims pray in a ?worship center.?  Unlike mosques, they say their facilities are only open to members of the congregation, and no public announcements are made to call the faithful to prayer. 

Representatives of the Ismaili Muslim community appeared before the plan commission last week to describe a 30,000-square-foot facility for prayer, educational and social activities to serve a congregation of about 900 people.  There would also be a parking lot for 350 vehicles with access north of McArthur Drive off Shermer.  Members now worship in Chicago and Northlake, but the congregation says as many as 600 would come to the Glenview site for Friday services in just over 200 vehicles.  Smaller groups of 50-250 people would come to worship every day from 5:15-5:30 a.m. and from 7:30-8:00 p.m.  A much smaller number could arrive as early as 3:30 a.m. for meditation.  In March, July and December the Ismailis mark high holy days when the population visiting the house of worship could exceed 900.  Even then, planners say, the parking lot could accommodate the 285 vehicles expected, and no one would be parking in the surrounding neighborhood.

Because the hours of activity are outside the traditional morning and afternoon rush, a traffic consultant testified that the house of worship would have little impact on the area.  Even so, the developer proposes adding a left-turn lane to northbound Shermer.

Plan Commission Chairman Howard Silver was not convinced.  He worried that some of those headed for 7:30 p.m. services on Fridays would pass through the already disastrous intersection of Shermer and Golf earlier, making the evening rush hour even more difficult.  The traffic expert disagreed, saying the peak hour at Shermer and Golf was from 4:45 to 5:45 ? earlier on Fridays.  ?[The House of Worship?s] peak is from 6:45 ? 7:45 when the volume of traffic [at the intersection] is dropping.?  

Perhaps hoping to impress the commission with the look of other Ismaili centers and the charitable work they do, the congregation?s president attempted to show a DVD.  He struggled for several minutes but could not get it to play.  The incident seemed to frustrate residents who were anxious to have their say.  When Chairman Silver asked the developer to skip the DVD, Attorney Mike Downing, who represents the Ismailis, began an apology for the technical problem. Residents tried to shout him down, prompting a warning from the chair.  ?The petitioner has a right to speak without catcalls,? he warned. ?You will have your chance to comment in a proper, professional way.? 

Silver explained to residents that the developer could take 90 minutes to describe plans for the new center, again prompting groans from the audience.? He?s entitled to it, just as you are,? Silver said.  He predicted two or three plan commission meetings would be devoted to this project.

Commissioners Peter Brinckerhoff, Gary Wendt and Chairman Silver questioned the decision to put the religion and education center relatively close to neighboring homes ? within 30 feet.  Noting lots of open space south of the proposed education wing, Silver wondered if there were plans to expand.

?At this time there is no intent,? said architect Ellen Dixon. 
The crowd guffawed.
Dixon reminded the commission that any expansion plans would have to be approved by the village.

?Have you designed the building so an addition can be easily built?? Silver persisted.
?It does adapt itself to having something naturally with that,? Dixon replied.
Sensing more hostility from the audience, Dixon continued: ?We really are very consciously making an effort to take care of the neighborhood, and I understand people have a disbelief in politics, a disbelief in our government system, but we?re not trying to pull any fast moves on people. . .I wish people would recognize that we are trying to take care of you, and we will make changes according to comments we?ve heard tonight.?

The developer plans extensive landscaping: 66 shade trees, 85 ornamental trees and 21 evergreens.  Chairman Silver said he thought a berm should be built to shield residents from early morning car noise. Silver also suggested the architect look at proceedings from the plan commission when it reviewed a new center for the Canaan Presbyterian Church near the corner of Lake and Greenwood, saying the situation there was similar.  Dixon said she had already done so but would take a second look. 

Local residents were initially asked to comment only on the question of whether Glenview should allow rezoning of the property.  It?s now zoned for light industrial activity, but must be rezoned to residential use and then win approval for a conditional use -- construction of a religious center. 

One neighbor wondered which use would generate more tax revenue.  She said the vacant, industrial land was generating more than $90,000 per year.   The announcement brought a hearty round of applause from area residents. ?If it?s rezoned and [allowed to become a religious site], that property?s going to be coming off the tax rolls, and that?s going to come out of my pocket!? she said.

Another neighbor, Marty Gartner, thought a change to residential zoning would be fine, but he preferred to allow construction of as many as five homes per acre.  ?I took a look at my tax bill and said, ?What would happen if there were 18 homes on there.  With assessed valuation of $50,000 per home, the taxes on an annual basis would be $155,250.  Out of that, $114,000 would go directly to the Glenview Park District, the Oakton College fund, the high school district, the school district 34 fund, the library fund and the village of Glenview.?
Again, the crowd erupted in loud applause.

The neighbors will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 21 and again at 7 p.m. Monday, July 25 at  Manor Park to discuss their next move.  Some would like to see the zoning kept for light industrial, making construction of an office building possible at that site.

Editor?s note:  A residential development would generate more tax dollars, but it would also put greater demand on services.  More families would be using the park district and library, police and paramedic services.  The area would require village plowing and street maintenance.  What?s more, the money from that site would not go to School District 34 but to an elementary school in Maine Township.  Often, residential development ends up costing existing taxpayers even more, because new homeowners don?t pay the full cost of their children attending public schools.

There are 15-20 million people who consider themselves Ismaili Muslims ? a small sect in the larger community of one billion Muslims.  Their spiritual leader ? said to be a direct descendent of the prophet Mohammed -- is a twice-divorced British billionaire, philanthropist and Harvard graduate known as the Aga Khan.  He owns 600 race horses, private jets, properties on five continents including newspapers, an airline, hotels, factories and extensive collections of jewelry and antiques.  Tall and balding, he dresses like a proper British gent ? in fashionable suit and tie. 
The local congregation?s DVD shows the Aga Khan hob-knobbing with wealthy and influential people in Texas and Illinois.  There is warm praise for the group from Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, from a past president of the World Bank and from the governor of Texas, where the Ismaili faith has its U.S. headquarters.  The program also shows people arriving for services -- men wearing suits, ladies and girls in dresses and fancy shoes. (No one is wearing a veil.) Their worship centers are simple, brick buildings -- no domes or spires.  The landscaping is pleasant but predictable with grass lawns, trees and bushes.

Ismailis are a subset of Shiite Muslims who have incorporated some ideas from Hinduism. Its leaders encourage intellectual freedom and tolerance, and they believe the Koran is open to individual interpretation. ?The Ismaili community practices Islam as a thinking, spiritual faith.  At its core are values of service to humanity, volunteerism and respect for diversity,? says the DVD?s narrator.  Ismaili families are expected to contribute one-eighth of their income to religious and charitable causes, and the DVD shows members working for the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and a crew at Ground Zero after 911.  

?A majority of Ismaili youth have been born in this country and are proud and loyal citizens,? the DVD continues.  ?They place a premium on education and strive to go to the best colleges.?  The program then shows a young Ismaili woman who is attending West Point, and features two young men who played on champion Glenview and Northbrook teams.

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