Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Recent Developments In Religious Land Use Cases

Newspapers around the country report on developments in a number of RLUIPA and other religious land use cases.

In Boulder County, Colorado, Rocky Mountain Christian Church is seeking permission for a 15 to 20 year construction plan that would add an education building, a multipurpose chapel building, a gymnasium, a connecting gallery, and about 500 parking spaces. Yesterday's Longmont (CO) Daily Times-Call reported that the U.S. Justice Department has now entered the pending litigation in which Boulder County is challenging the constitutionality of RLUIPA's land use provisions.

The Orange County (CA) Register today reports that in Huntington Beach, California, lawyers for the city and Praise Christian Center are negotiating in a final attempt to settle a lawsuit, now on appeal, in which the church charges that the city violated RLUIPA in 2003 when it required the church to make various changes to a warehouse before using it a a church. These included a sprinkler system, soundproofing, and relocation of 3 parking spaces. The city prevailed at trial, but Praise Christian Center is appealing because the court refused to hear expert testimony on other situations in which the city did not require businesses to make like changes.

In Bedminster Township, New Jersey, under the prodding of a federal judge, the township is attempting to reach a settlement with Church of the Hills that has filed a RLUIPA suit because the township zoning board denied it a crucial variance it needs to proceed with its plans to quadruple the size of its facilities. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief supporting the church. Yesterday, the Bernardsville News reported that the church has agreed to scale back its plans, and the township may now have more incentive to settle because its insurance carrier is no longer supporting its defense.

Finally, in Washington state, the Seattle Times reports today that a state court of appeals is being asked to grant an emergency stay of the order obtained by the city of Woodinville evicting 60 residents of Tent City 4. The tent city, sponsored by SHARE/WHEEL (a non-profit homeless advocacy group), is being hosted by Northshore United Church of Christ. One of the arguments on appeal is that the city's land-use code unconstitutionally infringes the church's right to religious expression. The city claims that Tent City 4 promoters did not follow proper permit procedures. In November, a RLUIPA claim was filed to challenge another Seattle suburb's regulation of a Tent City 4 encampment. (See prior posting.)