Meeting set on federal civil rights lawsuit against St. Anthony over denial of Islamic center

The former Medtronic headquarters at 3055 Old Highway 8 is at the center of a federal civil rights lawsuit against St. Anthony. The U.S. Justice Department sued the city after it denied a conditional use permit that would have allowed worship at an Islamic center in the building. Lawyers and city officials have a meeting set with Judge Jeffrey Keyes Dec. 11.
The former Medtronic headquarters at 3055 Old Highway 8 is at the center of a federal civil rights lawsuit against St. Anthony. The U.S. Justice Department sued the city after it denied a conditional use permit that would have allowed worship at an Islamic center in the building. Lawyers and city officials have a meeting set with Judge Jeffrey Keyes Dec. 11. (Mike Munzenrider/Review)
The building reflects its history as a former Medtronic headquarters in its interior. According to the company’s website, the firm moved into the building in 1961, vacating a Minneapolis garage.
The building reflects its history as a former Medtronic headquarters in its interior. According to the company’s website, the firm moved into the building in 1961, vacating a Minneapolis garage. (Mike Munzenrider/Review)

Lawyers, city officials to meet with judge in settlement conference

The latest round in the federal civil rights lawsuit filed against St. Anthony Village will be played out Thursday, Dec. 11, when a scheduling and settlement conference takes place in Minneapolis.

It will be the first movement in the lawsuit filed Aug. 27 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleging that the St. Anthony City Council violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, when it denied a conditional use permit in June 2012 that would have allowed worship services at an Islamic center.

Lawyers representing both sides, along with lawyers for the Abu-Huraira Islamic Center, which filed a concurrent civil rights suit against the city, will meet with Magistrate Judge Jeffrey J. Keyes.

St. Anthony City Manager Mark Casey, Mayor Jerry Faust and Council Member Hal Gray will be at the conference, according to court documents, which indicated St. Anthony attorneys have had closed meeting discussions with the whole city council about the religious discrimination lawsuit.

The case is centered on the former Medtronic corporate headquarters building, which is located at 3055 Old Highway 8 in an area of St. Anthony that is zoned for light-industrial use.

The Abu Huraira Islamic Center purchased the large office building in 2012 and planned to convert much of the lower level into a Muslim worship and community gathering space.

Casey, who confirmed he and the other city officials will attend the meeting, declined to discuss the gathering or speculate on what a possible settlement might look like. Faust, likewise, declined to comment on the conference due to the pending litigation.

A spokesperson for the Minnesota district of the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the likelihood of a pre-trial settlement and lawyers representing the Islamic center did not return calls seeking comment.

‘Pressured by Islamophobes’

If a settlement were to result from the conference, it could only be finalized at an open St. Anthony City Council meeting by a council vote.

As of last week, Casey said the city had incurred legal costs of $81,675.80 related to the case.

He said the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust is covering a large portion of the those costs, and between its deductible and co-pays, the city’s portion, so far, is slightly over $22,000.

The council’s original 4-1 vote to deny a CUP for the Islamic group to worship in the building was tinged by anti-Islamic statements made by city residents at meetings leading up to the vote and the perceived preferential treatment given to Christian groups under similar circumstances.

Because the building is zoned for light-industrial use, the city has contended it was only following its own rules when it turned down the permit.

“We were shocked when St. Anthony denied the conditional use permit for the Islamic center in 2012 after getting pressured by Islamophobes,” said Lori Saroya, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which urged the Department of Justice to file a lawsuit.

“We hope for a speedy resolution to the case so that the local Muslim community may have access to the facilities required to meet its needs,” Saroya said in a statement.

Abu-Huraira purchased the building in August of 2012 for $1,864,000, according to the Hennepin County assessor’s office. A report at the time pegged the down payment at $400,000.

Building half occupied

The 85,000-square-foot building was built in the early 1960s and today houses a handful of businesses, including an engineering firm, law offices, medical companies, a daycare and a transportation company.

On a recent Friday morning there was scattered activity at the business center, and the tenants in one office seemed puzzled by a question about the building being an Islamic center, instead referring to Abu-Huraira as the property managers. The office staffers added that the people from Abu-Huraira were not yet in for the day.

The building, well heated and with assiduously cleared sidewalks, is half occupied and the décor reflects its history as a former corporate headquarters.

With small-scale interior construction projects going on, the building’s overall property taxes are just over $46,000 a year, according to the Hennepin County assessor’s office. St. Anthony’s portion of the building’s property taxes is $10,349.83.

A portion of that tax bill could disappear if parts of the building are converted to tax-exempt worship space.

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.

 

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