Religious group begs city to reconsider zoning law

The Petra Presbyterian Church bought a building to relocateits church. But the property is in the middle of an industrial zone that doesnot permit churches.

Petra is a predominantly Korean congregation. It currentlyconducts its worship services, and other church-related functions such asweddings and baptisms, in space rented from a nearby Lutheran church.

Purchase Bob Bruss reports online.

In 2000, Petra attempted to buy an existing office buildingfor $2.9 million in an industrial zone that permitted membership organizations,such as union halls, chambers of commerce, and other groups. But the zoningspecifically excluded religious organizations.

Petra applied for rezoning to “institutionalbuildings,” but the local planning commission recommended against rezoningand the city council agreed. Petra then cancelled its purchase contract, whichwas contingent upon rezoning.

The church then purchased the same property without arezoning contingency for $300,000 less. Petra then sued the city, claiming thezoning code is unconstitutional for violation of the Equal Protection Clause,Free Exercise Clause, the right to free speech, and the federal Religious LandUse and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000.

Although the church’s request for a temporary restrainingorder was denied, in 2003 the church began conducting worship services at itsproperty. The city obtained an injunction to prohibit Petra from conductingworship services and denying occupancy to more than 60 persons. Petra thenreturned to its worship space rented from the Lutheran church.

The city rezoned additional areas to zones where religiousorganizations were previously not allowed. However, the rezoning did notinclude the industrial area where Petra purchased its building.

If you were the judge, would you require the city to allowthe Petra Presbyterian Church to conduct religious services in its buildingwithin an industrial zone?

The judge said no!

The evidence shows Petra was well aware the property itpurchased within an industrial zone did not allow religious services withinthat area, the judge began.

Although the city opened additional zones to religiousorganizations where they were not previously allowed, the U.S. Constitution andthe federal RLUIPA law do not require all zones be open to religious groups, heexplained.

Approximately 70 percent of the land zoning within the cityallows religious organizations within those zones, the judge noted. Of the 11churches that attempted to locate within the city in the last few years, hecontinued, only Petra failed to comply with the zoning rules, he commented.

Because the city has avoided liability by eliminating itsdiscriminatory zoning provision against religious organizations, the city isnot in violation of federal law and does not have to permit Petra to relocateits church within an industrial zone, the judge ruled.

Based on the 2006 U.S. District Court decision in PetraPresbyterian Church v. Village of Northbrook, 409 Fed.Supp.2d 1001.

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center

Copyright 2006 Inman News

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