County attorney Josh McCreary defends the Rutherford County Planning Commission during closing arguments April 26, 2012, in Chancery Court in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (TMP Photo/D. Gardonia)
Rutherford County’s Planning Commission voted to appeal a recent ruling by Chancellor Robert E. Corlew III that voided site plan approval of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro for failure to provide adequate public notice.
The Planning Commission reconvened after an executive session between commission members and attorney Josh McCreary around 10 p.m. Monday to publicly discuss legal options regarding the Islamic Center.
The issue will come before the full County Commission at its regular meeting Thursday, June 14, at the Rutherford County Courthouse on the Square in Murfreesboro.
McCreary presented three options to the commission. Appealing the decision, starting over with the process of site plan approval, or doing both.
“There may be other options. Those are the three obvious ones,” McCreary advised.
Planning Commission members maintained they did nothing wrong when they advertised a site plan meeting for the Islamic Center in The Murfreesboro Post in advance of its May 2010 meeting.
Opponents of the mosque said they were not adequately informed of the public meeting regarding construction of the Islamic community center.
Corlew did not rule whether The Murfreesboro Post was a newspaper of general circulation at the time, but did suggest more should have been done to advertise the meeting because it was of particular interest to the community.
Frank Gibson, policy director for the Tennessee Press Association said an appeal was invited by Corlew’s opinion.
“I have felt the county did nothing wrong in this matter and was surprised the judge found a problem with it,” he said. “It’s appropriate to appeal given the complexity of the judge’s decision and the chancellor invited that in his opinion, that a superior court look at this.”
The Planning Commission voted to stand behind its original action.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” Planning Commission member Mike Kusch said. “We are not allowed to discriminate against any applicant and I’m puzzled in his ruling that he’s leading us down that path that you have to look at each one and determine how it would impact the community and in terms of religious background.”
Commission members also said they are unsure of what appropriate advertising is for all future meetings.
“We didn’t just go and advertise in The Post on a whim. We went and got an attorney general’s opinion before we even considered it. It’s discrimination,” said Will Jordan, planning and county commissioner. “We were just trying to do our duty as legally, morally, and equally as possible and I’ve regretted being on the commission a whole lot the past two years.”
McCreary said Corlew did not say what adequate notice would be, but that in reference to the Islamic Center more notice should have been given.
Commissioner Rhonda Allen also supported appealing Corlew’s decision, but doesn’t want the Islamic Center put on hold while waiting for a decision from the appeal.
“I don’t want to hold the Islamic Center hostage waiting on a decision, waiting to know what’s going to happen with this building they’re investing millions of dollars in,” she said.
Allen added the Islamic Center did nothing wrong as it went through the proper channels of submitting plans and paying the required fees.
Kusch agreed with Allen saying, “I want them to keep building. I don’t want to do anything to slow that up.”
Allen made a motion to re-advertise the meeting in addition to beginning the appeals process. She argued for posting a notice in The Post and The Daily News Journal, as well as posting it on the county’s official website and broadcasting it on local cable channel 19 in hopes that would be adequate notice for the community to attend another site plan meeting on the mosque.
Allen withdrew her motion after some commission members expressed preference for waiting to see how the appeal goes.
The Planning Commission voted 6-1, with Craig Lynch dissenting, to seek an appeal. Four members were absent from the vote. The commission will decide whether to re-advertise a site plan meeting for the mosque at 9 a.m. Monday, June 25, in the Mezzanine, located at No. 1 Public Square South.