The Bad Curve in the Road

Years ago I experienced politics as an official in a local county. This was in a county north of Richmond with a population of about 75,000. I lived in the County in a mostly rural district where in the early 1860’s tens of thousands of soldiers, both blue and gray, had given the ultimate sacrifice in campaigns like Gaines Mill, Cold Harbor, Seven Days Battle, Beaver Dam Creek, and countless smaller skirmishes. In the mist of all this is where many of the dead from both sides are buried. It is a sacred and special place. Near the Cemetary there is a dangerous curve in the 2-lane rural road that passes the site. Numerous people have tried to get that historic road straightened for safety reasons. It will never happen. What the Cemetary represents even today, about 150 years later, means more than somehow changing it’s originality and historical layout.

Every time I try to get my mind around the issues of the proposed Islamic center in Manhatten, the issues we dealt with concerning this historic Cemetary creep into my head. Yea, they are different. But in many ways the over-riding motivations are similiar.

I struggle with this Islamic proposal, mostly because it involves different levels of processing the many issues involved. The first thing you learn in considering planning matters is to leave personal opinion and emotions at home. Easily said, next to impossible to achieve. That stated, if the NY City zoning and master plan allow for whatever is being proposed, the proper plans are submitted and approved, the City signs off on it all–then the proposal should be approved. This process is usually long and laborous and requires endless meetings and public hearings. Most often those opposed voice their oppostion and many times the developer will offer proffers to satisfy the opposition. I must assume this has been done in the case of the Islamic Center.

And one must remember that if a developer goes thru the process and gains approval for a TGI Fridays it is a simple step to, six months later, change to say–a Hooters.

Then there is the question of religious freedom. This does not trump the local planning process because issues like safety, traffic, utilities, enviromental impact, zoning, etc. take precedent. For instance, a church with 5,000 members should not be approved on a road designed for 500 vpd. Or where there is inadequate water supply for that number of persons. And so on. Therefore, using the freedom of religion standard really doesn’t apply to the Islambic proposal and flouting it as a reason for approval has no standing. It sounds good and noble but it is not the issue here.

Conversely, if one is opposed to the beliefs, practices, dogma, or other doings of a particular religion — this has no standing either. Only if these beliefs or practices rise to the level of breaking the law would this become an issue. Remember the first rule of planning and zoning–no emotion or personal feelings. Well, that’s impossible here.

Another major consideration would be good will by a developer because they are proposing to become a member of the community. This is where we leave objective planning and enter into mostly subjective planning based on wide ranging guidelines. It happens with almost every shopping center, subdivision, apartment project, section 8 housing, industrial site, Hooters, adult book store, etc. This is where the proffer process allows the developer to make proposals based on the planning staff’s input, political concerns, and most importantly those people and groups opposed to the project–regardless of their motivations. Here the emotional and personal factors enter the process again. This part of the process can get nasty.

If I might I would like to interject how good planning can forego these types of problems. If a jurisdiction, for example, passed a law while emotions were calm and included all sides, they may say an adult book store cannot locate within so many feet of a school or church or whatever. While not perfect at least the book store owner would know his limitations.

So, while I oppose the Islamic Community Center in it’s proposed location, it is not on Constitutional or legal grounds. This is a ‘what’s right’ or ‘what’s not right’ issue based on many factors. And for me it is based on what I perceive as the historical perspective of the everyday beliefs of the Muslim faith. It appears the proposal does not take into consideration the desires and feelings of the families and friends of the 911 victims. Many of their feelings are very emotional and this is understandable. I have read the Cordoba website and listened to recordings of Imam Feisal. He says it is not a mosque and it is to serve the community. And considering all the reasons stated on the website I see no reason the center could not be located elsewhere nearby and still fulfill the stated desires of the Cordoba Initiative. Talk about building bridges and healing and serving the community that move would provide. To the families and friends left behind as well as the effect this terrorism had on the entire NY City community–this is their ‘bad curve in the road’ that really needs to be left alone. If the Cordoba Initiative were to follow it’s own pronouncements, it would locate the Islamic center elsewhere.



    Randy – This story agrees with your opinion to locate the Islamic center elsewhere. It’s not a matter of its legal or not to build. It’s a matter of whether or not it brings peace to the situation which it clearly doesn’t. The “religion of peace” should arrive at a decision that, well, brings peace to all.

  2. Randy, hats off to you for a post that is measured and compassionate. For my two cents, I will simply add that in times of high emotion it is wise to defer to reason and the rule of law. These exist, in part, to protect us from the excesses of human nature.

  3. Randy in Richmond says:

    I must update a small but significant part of the debate on this issue. I have continuously read and heard that the proposed mosque is ‘near’ Ground Zero. Many have stated that the proposed mosque is actually one or two blocks from the former site of the Twin Towers. I came to believe this because many were saying so.

    Not true. The site is the location of the former Burlington Coat Building which took a direct hit on 911 from the fuselage and landing gear of one of the hijacked planes. Therefore the proposed site is not just near Ground Zero–it is Ground Zero.

  4. Yes, it is. It’s a flag planting, for sure. But, I also think it’s a diversion. What are we supposed to be paying attention to at this moment? Are we letting ourselves be sidetracked by a mosque that won’t ever get built?

  5. Randy in Richmond says:

    Today, the Democratic Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, publicly called for an investigation of the Democratic Majority Leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, among others.

    77 days