Guest Post by Tavo T. True-Alcala

A brewing dispute in Yonkers, NY has led the Islamic Community Center for Mid Westchester (ICCMW) to allege that Yonkers violated ICCMW’s rights under RLUIPA, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.  The controversy began in the summer of 2015 when ICCMW submitted an application to undertake certain renovations at a property it owns within a residential district.  According to the complaint, the renovations are necessary so it can operate the property as a Mosque.  ICCMW, however, claims that it is now prevented from making necessary repairs because the City, after a petition by the Colonial Heights Association of Tax Payers (CHAT), designated the property as a historic landmark.  ICCMW now seeks a preliminary injunction “declaring the landmark designation discriminatory and void.”

ICCMW claims that it was opposed at every turn by CHAT, a group of local residents who had allegedly opposed similar religious projects in the past.  ICCMW argues that CHAT’s actions were motivated by prejudice and that, since a Mosque is a permitted use, CHAT settled on historic landmark designation as the way to force ICCMW to look elsewhere.  CHAT’s initial application was deemed insufficient, and ICCMW believes that even the approved application fails to establish that the property meets even one of the four historic designation criteria, which are that a building must:  be associated with persons or events of historic significance; be illustrative of historic growth and development; embody distinctive characteristics or be the work of a master; or contain unique architectural, archaeological, or artistic qualities.

In its request for injunctive relief, ICCMW reviews these criteria, and explains why its property does not meet any of the above standards.  It contends that the designation of its house based on reasons other than those legally allowed is no more than a pretext to accomplish a prejudiced and discriminatory agenda.

The obvious question presented by ICCMW’s petition is whether its request for relief is ripe—ICCMW has not applied to the City’s Landmark Preservation Board for a certificate of appropriateness to conduct the repairs and renovations it deems necessary for Mosque operations.  Addressing this point, ICCMW states:  “The landmark designation restricts ICCMW’s free will to construct and have a house of worship bearing all characteristics of a Mosque of their choice, either presently or in the future.  It curtails their ability to renovate the property.  The Muslim population in Colonial Heights has grown, and they have no house of worship nearby, hence the demand for a Mosque in Colonial Heights is ripe.”

This NBC News article about the case includes a photograph of ICCMW’s Yonkers property.