Friday, December 28, 2012

Homeowners Sue New Mexico County Challenging Its Zoning Settlement With UDV Church

Wednesday's Santa Fe New Mexican reports on a state court lawsuit by six New Mexico homeowners challenging on constitutional grounds the decision by Santa Fe County  to settle a lawsuit filed by O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (UDV).  UDV, a church that uses a hallucinogenic tea as a sacrament, sought county zoning approval to build a temple, a guesthouse for a clergy member, and a greenhouse, as well as renovating a yurt, on property of Seagram’s whiskey heir Jeffrey Bronfman who is a local UDV leader. (Background.) The County Commission voted 3-2 to deny the required permits, saying that the construction was incompatible with the neighborhood.  UDV sued in federal district court charging religious discrimination. [corrected]  This led the county to negotiate a settlement with UDV under which the county would approve a new temple, but not a greenhouse or yurt. UDV would limit the times and number of people attending services.  The county agreed it would also pay $300,000 to extend a waterline and install a fire hydrant on the property, and would spend another $80,000 for a waste water system there.  Plaintiffs in the state court lawsuit claim that these expenditures would violate the anti-donation clause of the state constitution as well as the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. [Thanks to Steven Siegel for the correction above.]