Construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro may continue but Rutherford County officials cannot issue an occupancy certificate that would allow members of the mosque to use the building, a judge announced Wednesday during an injunction relief hearing.
The ruling comes two weeks after Chancellor Robert Corlew III ruled the Rutherford County Planning Commission did not provide adequate notice to residents prior to approving construction of the Islamic Center.
Although he stopped short of halting construction, Corlew said an occupancy certificate could not be issued because his previous decision voided authorization of a site plan proposal, which was approved by the Planning Commission during a May 2010 meeting.
“Nothing in the previous ruling prevents the Planning Commission from properly giving notice and holding another meeting to reconsider the site plan approval – but that still has not occurred,” Corlew said. “There has to be an approved site plan before an occupancy certificate can be issued to the Islamic Center.”
Attorney John Green, who represents the Islamic Center, said the ruling was disappointing because mosque leaders have done nothing but follow the law.
“Construction will continue,” Green said, “until the Islamic Center is ordered otherwise.”
Opponents of the Islamic Center had sought an injunction to stop the first phase of construction, but Corlew said his previous ruling could not be enforced until after the 30-day appeal period.
“We are pleased with the ruling,” said attorney Joe Brandon Jr., who represents opponents of the Islamic Center. “No matter if the Islamic Center completes construction, no one can occupy the building.”
The ruling also means the Rutherford County government, including the Building Codes Department and Planning Commission, “has no authority to approve further construction” of the second and third phases of the mosque, Brandon said.
However, if the Planning Commission does approve the site plan again, then the injunction would be lifted, Brandon said.
Even so, opponents could file another injunction request after the 30-day period has ended Monday, July 2, to halt construction, which is scheduled for completion in late-July, just in time for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
“The Islamic Center could choose to continue construction, or not,” said County Attorney Josh McCreary, who has represented the Rutherford County government throughout the two years of litigation in the case.
“But without the order of occupancy, the members of the Islamic Center cannot use the building, even if it is complete,” McCreary said, adding members of the Rutherford County Commission are in the process of determining what actions to take in light of the recent rulings.
He said the issue will be discussed Thursday, June 14, during a regularly scheduled County Commission meeting, which is slated to begin at 6 p.m. inside the Rutherford County Courthouse in downtown Murfreesboro.