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Proposed mosque draws ire of neighbors in Harwood Heights

The Mercy Islamic Community Center has proposed putting mosque site old Eisenhower Library building 4652 Olcott Harwood Heights. Some neighbors

The Mercy Islamic Community Center has proposed putting in a mosque on the site of the old Eisenhower Library building, 4652 Olcott, in Harwood Heights. Some neighbors are upset by the proposal. | Chris LaFortune~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 28, 2012 6:09AM

Milan and Maria Letica have lived in their Harwood Heights apartment for 20 years, but if a mosque moves in next to them, they say they are moving out.

“Why doesn’t the village take care of the people who have been here for years?” the Leticas’ son, Branco, said. “So many more people are against this than the village knows.”

Branco Letica, who spoke on behalf of his parents because of their limited English, said no one in his parents’ apartment building in the 4700 block of Olcott is pleased with the proposal to turn the old Eisenhower Library building next door into a mosque. He expects many apartment dwellers in the other three buildings butting up to the library property at 4652 Olcott feel the same.

“There will be more people coming. There will be issues,” Branco Letica said of a mosque being in the area. “There will be a lot of traffic. There will be more noise.”

John Pikarski, an attorney with 40 years zoning-case experience, said a mosque is a much more conducive use of the property for the nearby neighbors than what the building, zoned industrial, could hold.

“Some fairly offensive uses can go in there as a matter of right,” Pikarski said.

“This is what I consider a substitution of uses,” Pikarski added. “This is one public use for another.”

Pikarski said the mosque could be addressed by the Village Board as soon as Thursday’s meeting, but the issue is not listed as an item on the board’s agenda, posted on the village website.

Mayor Arlene Jezierny could not be reached for comment on the matter. The request has already been approved by the village’s Plan Commission.

The applicant, Mercy Islamic Community Center, meets at the Islamic Community Center of Illinois, Pikarski said. An office manager for ICCI said Mercy does not use the facility on a weekly basis, but contacts the Belmont Avenue-based center when looking for space for services and activities.

“This is a group that is growing and needs its own space,” Pikarski said. “They are largely upper middle-class people. They are dentists, doctors, engineers, architects. They are from surrounding suburbs — from Park Ridge on in [to the city]. These are people who live in the area.”

Pikarski said the mosque is a benign use of the existing building. He said Mercy Islamic will take a building that does not meet safety codes and bring it up to code. The mosque will update a building that should be saved instead of knocked down, Pikarski said.

The zoning attorney said the building would be used fewer than six days a week and that the busiest time would be at noon Friday.

“This is a good transitional use for the residences to the north and the industrial properties to the south and east,” Pikarski said.

The Leticas believe the transition will be anything but smooth for nearby neighbors.

“People have lived here for so long. Why the change?” Branco Letica asked. “This change is not welcomed. Why doesn’t the village work on behalf of the people who live there? All they are doing this for is the money. . . . No one cares about the residents’ happiness.”

Branco Letica said with all that is happening in the Middle East right now, neighbors are concerned about a mosque next to them.

“We are willing to get people together to fight this,” Branco Letica said.

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