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Federal Judge Rules Against Islamic Center in Alpharetta Zoning Case

The city did not prevent the Islamic Center of North Fulton from pursuing its religious beliefs, U.S. District Judge Forrester ruled this week.

UPDATED 12:05 P.M.: The failed to convince a federal judge that Alpharetta prevented it from pursuing its religious beliefs or dissuading members from practicing their faith.

U.S. Senior District Judge J. Owen Forrester rejected the church's argument, "finding that the burdens placed upon its religious exercise did not rise to the level of severity contemplated by Supreme Court."

Alpharetta City Attorney Sam Thomas expects the judge's decision to be appealed.

Andrea Cantrell Jones, an attorney for the Islamic Center, said they are disappointed with the outcome. She said her law firm, Dillard & Galloway LLC, is exploring options for their client, and hope to meet with them by the beginning of next week.

"I think the key was convincing the Court there was no evidence to suggest that the City's land use decision was related in any way to religion or that the decision imposed a substantial burden upon the exercise of religion," said Thomas.

The Islamic Center had asked the city to allow it to build a 12,032 square foot main building to be used as a mosque and a 1,910 square foot building intended to be used as a communing hall.

Alpharetta City Council voted against the zoning request, citing an agreement the Islamic Center had with the neighborhood that they'd only use the existing house. Maintenance and repairs to that building and a house next door built for the Iman's residence were allowed.

In Judge Forrester's order, he said the court found it important that the church had alternatives it could pursue outside of demolishing its current building to construct a new one, such as leasing or subleasing an existing church or meeting hall to facilitate its worship or to pursue its other religious endeavors.

"The matters complained of either existed and were acceptable at the time the property was acquired or could be mitigated by routine maintenance and repairs," Thomas said.

People in the Rucker Road neighborhood, including Fairfax subdivision, can expect no changes–at least for now.

"We do expect the decision to be appealed," Thomas said.

The City Attorney said the state case is stayed until the federal case is over, including appeals. He said the city feels confident in the state case, as it is based in large part on the same facts as the federal case.

Thomas was asked what he'd say to other congregations looking at Alpharetta.

"The city welcomes all congregations and would assist in finding appropriate locations," he said.

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