Like good fences, good covenants make good neighbors.

Broken covenants – well, they can sow anger and mistrust.

When the Foundation for Islamic Education took over a 23-acre college campus in Villanova in 1994, Muslim leaders overcame neighborhood opposition by agreeing to abide by an array of restrictions, including limits on traffic, permanent residents, religious retreats and noise.

Now, as the foundation seeks zoning permission to expand operations after 12 years of growth, it has had to admit it violated not only those covenants but also the original 1994 zoning order.

Foundation leaders are pledging to be better neighbors from here on, but residents are proving a tougher sell this time.

The Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board took up the expansion proposal in November. After a second hearing in May, James Greenfield, attorney for 26 neighborhood families, asked the board to reject the zoning application, saying: “The foundation clearly will not police itself and has no qualms about expanding its use without regard for governmental regulation. The board must, therefore, regard this institution as a threat to the surrounding community.” . . .

Adeeba al-Zaman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Philadelphia office said foundation officials had been “very open with their neighbors.” They have held open houses during Ramadan, she said. “They are very warm and welcoming.”

Although the neighborhood, according to residents, is roughly 50 percent Jewish, no one cited religion as an issue.

“It has very little to do with the fact it is an Islamic institution,” said Township Commissioner Phil Rosenzweig, who has been heavily involved in working to bring both groups together. “It could be a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a day camp, any institution. It’s about following the rules and being a good neighbor.”


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