After months of hearings, the central Massachusetts town of Dudley is now completely refusing to allow the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester to build any sort of cemetery there. A board has denied the group access to a permit under any conditions.
Opposition to the plans for a cemetery has been loud, heated and widespread. Neighbors of the 55-acre parcel of old farmland the Muslim applicants agreed to purchase expressed fears about the contamination of local wells.
But the statements of some have brought accusations of anti-Muslim prejudice.
On Thursday night, the applicants expected the Zoning Board of Appeals would vote on their land purchase proposal — along with some conditions. Instead, the board asserted that the Islamic Society is not eligible to apply for the permit they first requested seven months ago.
"Why didn’t you tell us this in the very first meeting?" asked the Muslim applicants.
The board, acting on the legal opinion offered by town counsel, said the landowner had not complied with a requirement to notify the town that she was selling the land, which is under special tax status.
According to the board, the town has the right of first refusal to buy the land before she can sell it to the Muslims.
"They have not been denied a special permit from acquiring a cemetery," John Glynn, a zoning board member, explained. "They’ve been denied the ability to seek one, because they don’t have standing."
Stunned by the board's actions, the Muslim applicants, who had expressed a willingness to scale down the size of the proposed cemetery, complained about their treatment.
"We believe the process has been unfair to us, because of the legal concerns," Amjad Bahnassi said, speaking on behalf of the Islamic Society. "We are going to try to secure our legal rights of having a piece of land where we can bury our dead people."
The applicants have 20 days to appeal the decision, and they vowed to do so. Which means they will be taking their case and the town of Dudley to court.
This segment aired on June 10, 2016.