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City of San Diego settles RLUIPA lawsuit with Academy of Our Lady of Peace,

Written by Daniel P. Dalton on February 20, 2013 Category: Equal Terms, Exclusions, Land Use and Zoning, RLUIPA, Substantial Burden, Unreasonable Limitations

As reported in today's San Diego Tribune and San Diego Reader the City of San Diego has dropped its opposition to the modernization plan of the Academy of Our Lady of Peace. The settlement combines cash payment, permits and relocation of homes

The Academy of Our Lady of Peace (AOLP) has settled its lawsuit with the City of San Diego, effectively ending the nearly yearlong dispute between San Diego’s oldest high school and the city in which it resides. The city has agreed to pay to relocate two homes on AOLP’s campus while razing a third by May 1, 2014, clearing the way for construction. The settlement also includes provisions limiting the total cost of all permits and inspections to $100,000, fast-track all permits for completion and a $500,000 cash settlement.

Approved by city council on February 12 and signed by Mayor Bob Filner, the settlement agreement replaces a previous jury verdict. With the lawsuit settled, AOLP can start construction plans and plans to break ground in June 2014.

“Kudos to the city for working with us and AOLP to establish a settlement that works well for both sides, giving the Academy what it needs to move forward to continue educating the young women of San Diego,” said Daniel P. Dalton, the Academy’s attorney who has won precedent-setting land use cases against municipalities found to be in violation of RLUIPA on behalf of Catholic churches and other religious institutions across the country.

Dalton, the country’s foremost expert on RLUIPA law with nearly 20 past cases across the country, has never lost.

Congress unanimously passed RLUIPA in 2000 to address local government discrimination in addressing land use applications submitted by religious organization and in doing so, leveled the playing field for religious uses and secular uses.

History

At issue in Academy of Our Lady of Peace v. City of San Diego was the City’s refusal to approve the all-girls Catholic high school’s plan to modernize its campus and facilities. The modernization was needed to add properly sized classrooms and increase the number of advanced placement course offerings, thereby continuing the tradition inaugurated in 1882 of superior education for the region’s future female leaders. With no new school facilities built since 1965, and with all adaptive reuse possibilities for existing structures exhausted, the proposed modernization plan is critical to the school’s future and to the education of the region’s young women.

The proposed modernization plan includes construction of one new school building and a parking structure on land the school already owns. These facilities would provide students state-of-the-art science laboratories, an enhanced library and media center and additional classroom space, as well as off-street parking. The school, which is a non-profit, provides financial assistance to nearly half of its students.

After repeatedly meeting with its neighbors, the school first proposed the modernization plan to the City in May 2007. Over the past five years, the Academy of Our Lady of Peace has sought approval to evolve as an educational institution and remain competitive with other private high schools and public schools in the area. Approval was attained from the City of San Diego Development Services Department and unanimously approved by the Planning Commission in 2008, but later rescinded by the San Diego City Council. The councilman who led the charge against the plan, Todd Gloria, indicated the preservation of the homes at their current location was more important than modernizing the educational facilities.

The Academy filed a federal lawsuit against the City of San Diego in May 2009. The suit alleged violation of RLUIPA, as well as violations of federal and state constitutional rights based on the City Council action.

A School Vindicated, Students to Benefit

The two week jury trial, held before the Honorable Cathy Ann Bencivengo, ended with the unanimous jury verdict holding that the City Council’s denial had substantially burdened the Academy’s religious exercise. Additionally, the City’s burden on the religious exercise was not justified by a compelling government interest fulfilled in the least restrictive means possible. Students, teachers, alumnae, and long-time administrators from the school attended every day of trial and were thrilled with the verdict.

In lieu of an appeal, the City and AOLP came to an agreement on settlement terms in February 2013, providing an expedited permitting and inspection process to help AOLP break ground by June of 2014.

The Academy is located in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood and is the city’s oldest high school. The private school is administered by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, whose religious mission of educating young women reaches back more than 300 years. Additional information is available at www.stayeducatedsandiego.com

About Academy of Our Lady of Peace

The Academy of Our Lady of Peace curriculum develops young leaders guided by principles including dedication to “excellence tempered by gentleness, peace and joy,” focus on service to the “dear neighbor,” and commitment to furthering social justice. More than 7,800 young women have graduated under these principles since the school’s founding. Collectively, they have contributed more than 24,000 hours of community services to the San Diego community. For more information on the Academy, visit http://www.aolp.org.

About Dalton & Tomich plc

Based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Dalton & Tomich plc is a law firm specializing in providing guidance to leading religious organizations in land use and zoning matters, helping property owners in land use matters, and assisting businesses and financial institutions as legal counsel across the nation. Visit http://wordpressmu-187172-552880.cloudwaysapps.com.

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Dalton & Tomich, PLC is the national leader in successfully helping churches, other religious institutions and their insurers defend their rights in land use and zoning matters under RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. We have helped clients win cases against municipalities and other local government bodies from coast to coast, with experience serving both as general counsel and special litigation counsel.