MURFREESBORO — Local Muslims who comply with Rutherford County zoning regulations should not have to pay for third-party experts on traffic and soil before the county allows them to expand a cemetery, a land use attorney said.
"If they comply with all the requirements, I'm not sure why they have to do a study," said George Dean, a Nashville lawyer who provided training to the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission on religious land use laws in June 2010. "The Tennessee Religious Freedom Restoration Act says that the city has to provide that there is a compelling reason to do these things, not vice versa."
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro faces a Rutherford County Board of Zoning Appeals condition to complete the third-party studies despite Planning Director Doug Demosi informing the BZA that the cemetery plan complies with the county's zoning regulations.
One study would determine whether the soil can handle the congregation's proposed cemetery; the other study must examinetraffic at the Islamic center's entrance on Veals Road and the nearby intersection of Veals and Bradyville Pike.
After holding a public hearing on the cemetery request, zoning appeals board member Keith Bratcher persuaded a majority of the board in a split 3-2 vote to ask for the studies.
The board then deferred a decision on the cemetery expansion until Jan. 8 or whenever the Islamic center representatives are ready to return before the board.
The cemetery request is the latest religious land use legal issue pertaining to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro since the county's planning commission approved the congregation's long-term plans to construct a 52,960-square-foot center on 15 acres near the southeast boundary of Murfreesboro.
The congregation completed the first 12,000 feet August 2012.
Plaintiff Kevin Fisher led a group in suing the county for approving the mosque plans without providing more public notice before the meeting. He asked the BZA to require a study about the soils to ensure they're safe for burials.
The Islamic Center in May 2010 buried one member on the property with permission from Demosi before the planning commissioners approved the construction plans. Demosi informed the congregation that it must obtain permission from the BZA to expand the cemetery.
Islamic Center board Chairman Essam Fathy said his congregation would look at the design work it completed in building its center to see if that could be used to answer the BZA's questions regarding the soil and traffic.