Fourth Temp Operating Permit On Contested Mosque Site Near Chino Prompts Second Suit

A group of residents living in a pocket of unincorporated county land between Montclair and Chino just west of Ontario and less than two miles from San Bernardino County’s border with Los Angeles County/Pomona have escalated their opposition to the establishment of a mosque in their low density agricultural residential neighborhood.
Well into their sixth year of resistance against the project, the group earlier this month filed a second lawsuit over the matter this month.
Since 2010, residents of the area have been in opposition to the proposal by Al-Nur Islamic Center to construct what was originally to be a 16,763 square foot structure but which has since been scaled back to a 7,512-square-foot mosque with a 52-foot-high domed roof on the 1.3-acre site on the south side of Phillips, west of Central Avenue, in the area within the City of Chino’s sphere of influence.
While the grand vision of that Moslem house of worship has yet to come to fruition, Al-Nur adherents have continued to hold gatherings of congregants within an existing 2,200 square-foot house on the property. For four years running, Al-Nur and its leader, Rashid Ahmed, have succeeded in getting a succession of permits to hold those more modest gatherings. That has not sat well with the district’s residents, who say that more than the maximum of 30 permitted congregants show up at the events.
Earlier this month the board of supervisors gave Al-Nur go-ahead to continue with those worship sessions, triggering a lawsuit.
Rashid Ahmed, as the chairman of the Al-Nur Islamic Center, applied on March 12, 2010 for a permit that would provide for the establishment of a 16,763 square foot structure that was to include a variety of ancillary uses such as a caretaker’s unit, a multipurpose hall, senior citizen activity center, senior citizen library, kitchen, health clinic, and nine classrooms. According to Christine Kelly, who was then the director of the county’s land use services department, that “proposal was unable to meet all of the required development standards.” The planning commission by a 4-1 vote on December 8, 2011 granted a conditional use permit for a scaled-back 7,512-square foot two-story center on 1.54 acres at 4797 Phillips Blvd, roughly 330 feet east of Yorba Avenue. Under the terms of approval, the 1,836 square-foot prayer hall was to have a maximum occupancy of 262 persons, which would be utilized for daily prayers during the hours of: 5 a.m.– 6 a.m., 1 p.m.– 2 p.m., 3 p.m.– 4 p.m., 6 p.m.– 7 p.m., and 8 p.m.– 9 p.m. Though worship was to be held at those hours, the applicants said that maximum occupancy was expected only once a week, on Friday from 12 p.m.– 2 p.m. when the main congregation and prayer session was to be held. In addition to the prayer hall, there was to be approximately 1,000 square feet of lobby area, a 257 square foot library/youth center, and restrooms on the first floor. The second floor would consist of a 133 square foot office and four classrooms totaling approximately 700 square feet, which will not be occupied during religious activities in the main prayer hall. Special events were to take place on an occasional basis and could also involve maximum occupancy. The mosque office was to be staffed by a maximum of two employees from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m.– 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.
Kelly’s recommendation did not absolutely redress a major objection raised by the project’s opponents, which pertained to sanitation and potential contamination of the groundwater at and around the project site. That span of unincorporated county area does not have a sewer system. Opponents contended that the parcel size cannot support an on-site septic system that can accommodate the proposed intensity of use and that existing sewer service providers in the general area, i.e., the cities of Montclair and Chino, were unwilling to allow the project to hook-up to the nearby sewer systems. The appellants were supported by the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, which sent correspondence to the county indicating that the septic system on the 1.54 acres did not supply adequate effluent processing capability to accommodate the 262-person capacity of the house of worship. Kelly, however, said that there was a potential that the property could be annexed into the city of Chino, which would thus allow for the project’s plumbing to be hooked up to the sewer system.
On February 11, 2011, the city of Chino submitted a letter to the county indicating that there is an existing sewer line at the intersection of Yorba Avenue and Francis Avenue, located west of the project site but that in order for the project to receive service from the city of Chino, an application would need to be submitted to the Local Agency Formation Commission, and an irrevocable agreement to annex to the city of Chino would need to be recorded. Additionally, the city said, the applicant [i.e., Al-Nur] would have to sustain the expense of constructing the more than 330-foot long connection to the sewer system.
Since that time, the property has not been annexed into the City of Chino and the sewer line has not been constructed.
Following the planning commission’s 4-1 vote in December 2011, local residents appealed that decision to the board of supervisors and formed a neighborhood group, known as Save Our Uniquely Rural Community Environment (SOURCE). On February 28, 2012, the board of supervisors denied the appeal and approved a conditional use permit for the Mosque. SOURCE then filed a lawsuit based on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) challenging the county’s granting of the conditional use permit to Al-Nur.
On February 6, 2013, Superior Court Judge Barry Plotkin found that the approval was in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act in all aspects except for sanitation. Based on Plotkin’s ruling, the board vacated and set aside its approvals of the conditional use permit on April 8, 2014. The application remains on file and additional environmental review of the sanitation issue is currently in process.
The county meanwhile gave Al-Nur a succession of temporary operating permits to conduct worship sessions within the existing house on the property, all of which were strenuously objected to by SOURCE.
An interim operation permit for the use of the existing single-family residence on the site for prayer meetings was approved by staff on September 7, 2012. Appeals of this approval, heard by the planning commission on February 7, 2013 and the board on May 21, 2013 were unsuccessful. Interim operation permits are valid for twelve months. On April 10, 2014, Al-Nur filed an application for a subsequent temporary permit, which was approved by county staff on June 3, 2014. That approval was appealed and denied by the planning commission on August 21, 2014, and by the board on January 27, 2015. A third interim operation permit application was approved by staff on February 18, 2016.
Appeal of that permit was made on February 25, 2016 by two residents of the neighborhood. The appeal application cited seven specific concerns, which boiled down to two material issues: alleged errors in procedure and conditions of temporary operating approval not being met.
Staff said the procedural requirements of issuing the temporary permits were met since the permits were not issued for more than a 12 month period. With regard to the suggestion by the appellants that the worship services represent an intensity of use by Al-Nur exceeding the zone use of the property, county officials responded, “Staff has verified that all conditions of the original and subsequent temporary use permit approvals have been satisfied. The facts that the structure utilized for the current permit is a residence and that the anticipated use relates to the exercise of religion are significant. The structure at the project site remains fully permitted and usable as a single-family residence, which fact accords the owner the right to use it within the parameters of that legally established use. As such, there is the possibility of a degree of overlap between uses common to single family residences and the more intense uses contemplated by the temporary use permit. Thus, whether the current permit is approved or not, the county will continue to receive and evaluate complaints as they are made, but that does not mean that enforcement actions are necessarily justified.”
With regard to what nearby neighbors cited as “significant concerns about activities on-site that create a public nuisance,” staff responded, “Inquiries to both county code enforcement and the sheriff’s department concluded that there have not been any complaints or noted violations for the site in the past 12 months. Two complaints, dated March 17, 2016, and March 18, 2016, relative to on-going nuisances at the project site, were sent to the Fourth District Supervisor Hagman’s office. These complaints were subsequently forwarded to the code enforcement division. Upon inspection, it was found that there were no substantive violations of County Code, and no public nuisance existed.”
On November 1, the board of supervisors voted 4-1, with supervisor Robert Lovingood dissenting, to issue another temporary operating permit.
On November 4, attorney Carrie Teasdale, representing residents Diane Schumann and Don Lange filed suit in San Bernardino Superior Court. The suit asks the court to set aside the county’s granting of the permit and to pay damages and legal costs to the plaintiffs in excess of $25,000.
“In reaching their decision, the board failed to make the required findings, ignored all of petitioners’ admissible evidence, showed overt favoritism toward [Al-Nur Islamic Center] and demonstrated a complete lack of consideration for the rights of its own property-owning, tax-paying constituents,” the suit states.
The county violated its own code by issuing a temporary permit, the suit claims. A temporary permit is only legal if a conditional use permit (CUP) is possible, and a CUP cannot be issued because of a Superior Court ruling four years ago requiring that an environmental impact report (EIR) be completed, according to the complaint.
No EIR has been prepared in response to the December 2012 ruling issued by Judge Barry Plotkin supporting SOURCE’s earlier suit ruled upon by Plotkin. Plotkin upheld SOURCE in its contention that the septic system on the site, designed for a single-family residence, is inadequate for the intensity of use Al-Nur has going on the property.

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