Open letter to the Mobile City Council

From the richest to the poorest of us, I would venture to say money is important. I am writing this letter out of sincere concern for our communities and our city of Mobile. Recently a 6-0 decision was upheld by our City Council not to allow the building of a small Buddhist meditation center in the Riverside community along Dog River here in Mobile.

The nearly unanimous decision was 6-0 because Councilwoman Bess Rich chose to abstain. The proposed Meditation Center would be located on seven acres of Dr. and Mrs. Nimityongskul’s private property adjacent to their home. There are only 13 homes on the street, Eloong Drive, where the center is being proposed and where Mrs. Nimityongskul and her family live.

In fact, her driveway is the first on the street, and people attending the center would never need to pass the remaining 12  homes on Eloong Drive. The modest, cottage-style meditation hall (2,400 square feet), and parsonage (for hosting transient teaching monks) being proposed would be virtually invisible to the community.

Engineers from the city and those hired by Mrs. Nimityongskul have determined the possible 18 to 30 additional cars attending the center each week would have a negligible traffic impact. The location falls into District 3 of councilman C.J. Small.

Yet traffic and “incompatibility with the surrounding area” have been cited as the major reasons for denying the application. Since the center is a Buddhist religious facility as well, questions have surfaced as to why there is supposedly such strong opposition to this project.

The Meditation Center has stated they plan to continue pursue their project, asking for help from the Justice Department. In recent years this would be the second time the Justice Department has had to interfere with local Planning Commission and City Council leadership to correct misjudgments in their decision-making with regard to applications for religious use. The first was a little over two years ago when the Council voted not to approve the application of a much larger Islamic mosque and school in District 7.

If the Nimityongskul family or Justice Department were to investigate and find religious bias against the Mediation Center on the part of either the neighborhood opposition, the Planning Commission or the City Council and file suit against the city, it would be very costly. In such a case, tax money garnered from the hardworking citizens of Mobile would have to be used to defend the city leadership’s lack of prudence and lapse in judgment regarding this matter.

This seems to me like a disgraceful waste of our citizens’ hard-earned money. Wouldn’t this money be put to better use improving the roads along Dauphin Island Parkway, and the potentially beautiful Mobile bayside park we, as a city, have largely ignored?

Mobile City Councilors, if “traffic” is truly the problem, why not skip the expensive city suit, respect the religious liberties of the Meditation Center of Alabama, and fix the substandard roads? This would be a great way for city leadership to nurture and invest in the community, with wisdom and without bias or prejudice, the same way The Meditation Center has for nearly eight years now.

With deepest regard and sincere concern,
Jennifer Brantley