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Group sues Costa Mesa over decision to allow Islamic center near John Wayne Airport

An association representing business owners in Costa Mesa has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the City Council’s decision to allow an Islamic group to open a new gathering center in a business park next to John Wayne Airport.

The lawsuit alleges the approval violates property rights by giving privileges to the center that aren’t enjoyed by other tenants in the area.

The Koll-Irvine Community Assn., which encompasses the business park located south of the 405 Freeway next to the airport, is looking to overturn the council’s vote that cleared the way for the Ismailis, a branch of Shia Islam, to open a 6,000-square-foot center at 3184 Airway Ave., Suite J.

“The evidence before the council did not support the decision,” states the lawsuit, which was filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court. “The evidence does not support the findings, and the findings do not support the decision.”

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Costa Mesa city spokesman Tony Dodero said the city has received the lawsuit, but that he cannot comment on pending litigation.

Salim Rahemtulla, a member of the Ismaili group, said he too is aware of the lawsuit, but declined to comment.

The council’s 3-2 vote in March overturned an earlier Planning Commission decision to deny the Ismailis’ proposed jamatkhana — used for religious, cultural and educational purposes.

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The Planning Commission had ruled in February that the facility would put further stress on the area’s parking.

In the lawsuit, the association alleges allowing the Ismailis to open up shop will impact the property rights of its membership.

“The business park is a shared-use ownership; the association owns the common area and all of the businesses have to share the parking area and the common area,” said Michael Leifer, a partner with the Irvine-based firm Palmieri Tyler who is representing the association. “And what appears to be happening is that the city’s approval purports to give the religious center rights that are different and potentially superior to rights of other businesses in the park.”

Essentially, Leifer said Friday, the city is “purporting to be the referee, umpire, arbitrator of a division of a shared property right that it doesn’t have the power to do.”

The case has been assigned to Judge Craig Griffin.

Some business owners in the park sent letters urging the Planning Commission to deny another project in the area this week, saying it would further exacerbate parking issues.

The commission voted unanimously Monday to approve a proposal from the Arts & Learning Conservatory — an educational nonprofit organization that offers musical theater and performing arts classes — to buy and move into 3184 Airway Ave., Suite A.

Planning Commission Chairman Robert Dickson called the conservatory project “a win for the center because you’re reducing the parking demand quite dramatically.”

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Luke Money, lucas.money@latimes.com

Twitter: @LukeMMoney

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