Under a draft zoning ordinance under consideration by the city of Saint-Paul, parishes and religious institutions in this city would be prohibited from expanding facilities to house the homeless, feed the hungry, providing daycare for children or adults – or even teaching religion, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and other faith groups said.
“I am very concerned about the potential impact of this zoning ordinance on our St. Paul parishes and all other churches in the city of St. Paul,” said Joseph Kueppers, lawyer and Archdiocesan Chancellor for Business civilians. “If this proposed zoning ordinance is approved, it could lead to costly litigation for any parish wishing to expand their ancillary space or create an ancillary space. “
Kueppers is not alone in his worries.
He said he hopes people will show up in full force for a public hearing on October 29 (see sidebar for details). He informed the 27 parishes of St. Paul of the hearing, and he plans to work with them and other faith communities to properly address the proposed zoning change.
Activities under the proposed construction ban also include the teaching of art, music, dance, adult education and general education classes; after-school programs; community center, meeting and performance space and receptions; counseling, social and community services.
Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul hosted a Zoom meeting on October 21 with St. Paul town planner Bill Dermody, whose department has forwarded the zoning proposal to a public hearing (see sidebar for details) . Ryan Rehkamp, parish director of Lumen Christi in St. Paul, plans to attend the October 21 meeting and the October 29 hearing. Alerted by a parishioner who saw the proposed ordinance, Rehkamp called Kueppers, who contacted Thomas Kane, an attorney who worked on a lawsuit that led to the proposed zoning change.
Rehkamp expressed concern about the rules on several levels, including the call for a conditional use permit for social and community services conducted on more than 1,000 square feet of floor space. That’s the size of Lumen Christi’s conference room, Rehkamp said. The bylaw could be interpreted to mean that sponsors of all activities would have to apply for a permit, even the social card games and the annual gathering for a movie and hot chocolate hosted by the parish men’s group for the children of the parish. parish and school he mentioned.
Kueppers said that under this interpretation, parishes that have a school as a ministry may also need a conditional use permit at St. Paul for their school’s current activities. “It’s just not clear,” he said.
How it started
The whole process began when the First Lutheran Church north of downtown St. Paul sued the town in 2015 for restrictions on renting the basement of its church at Listening House, a health center for day for homeless and low-income people. The restrictions, brought about by neighbors unhappy with people walking around the neighborhood, severely hampered Listening House, Kane said. The settlement, reached in 2019, allowed Listening House to stay and resume operations as before the trial.
The bylaw also required the city to review its zoning ordinances and improve the land use application process for religious organizations. But the changes proposed by the city leave parishes and other entities worse off than before the trial, Kane said. They include three standards and conditions: “No building expansion or new buildings may be constructed for the primary purpose of carrying out an incidental use of a religious institution. “In addition,” in residential neighborhoods, a conditional use permit is required for social and community services with more than one thousand (1,000) square feet of floor area dedicated to these uses. The third condition states: “These norms and conditions shall not be applied in a manner which restricts the rights to religious exercise granted under the Law on the Use of Land for Religious Purposes and Institutionalized Persons or d ‘other laws.
Kane and Kueppers said the city’s proposal would violate religious protections in the U.S. Constitution as well as the federal law it claims to follow – the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). This law prohibits the government from imposing land use regulations that create a substantial burden on religion, unless there is a compelling government interest. If regulations are deemed necessary, they should be as restrictive as possible.
Hostile to religion?
The approach to the city, Kane said, demonstrates hostility to religion. City officials fought the First Lutheran trial and proposed an ordinance that would illegally prevent religious groups from helping those in need, he said.
“It’s not an inadvertent act,” Kane said. “It is an active and hostile act towards religion.”
In a letter to Evan Berquist, Cozen O’Connor’s lead attorney for the first Lutheran case who had inquired about the public hearing, Deputy City Attorney Portia Hampton-Flowers called the rally part of the zoning study. Berquist said this is misleading.
“They’re already enforcing the ordinance like it’s law,” Berquist said. “In reality, the hearing is only a legal obligation. They need a public hearing before changing the order.
Still, if enough people testify against the proposed ordinance, pressure could intensify for the city to change course, Berquist said. First Lutheran and Cozen O’Connor are not giving up.
“We take it one day at a time,” he said.
INVITATION TO THE ZOOM MEETING
Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul is inviting all religious leaders to a Zoom meeting on October 21 with St. Paul town planner Bill Dermody, whose department has forwarded the zoning proposal to a public hearing. To register for the 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. meeting, go to shorturl.at/fovE4.
There is also an online public hearing on the zoning proposal set for 8:30 am on October 29 by the St. Paul Planning Commission. The hearing – which will be held virtually to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 – can be viewed by phone at 612-315-7905 code: 724 356 504 # or a Microsoft Teams link on stpaul.gov/planning-commission.
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