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The latest news on the Church of Our Savior case

Written by Daniel P. Dalton on September 23, 2014 Category: Equal Terms, Exclusions, Land Use and Zoning, RLUIPA, Substantial Burden, Unreasonable Limitations
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As reported by Action News 38, here,

Church attorney: Jacksonville Beach changed Religious Land Use Act on purpose before trial

By Amanda Warford

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — The City of Jacksonville Beach will head to federal court Wednesday to fight a lawsuit filed by the Church of Our Savior. The congregation of the church is growing, and for nearly two years, elders have attempted to secure an empty lot east of the Intracoastal Bridge on Beach Boulevard for a new facility. The lot is currently zoned residential, and twice, the Jacksonville Beach Planning Division has denied the Church’s request for a zoning change, siding with neighbors who are concerned with lighting, noise and parking. The church’s attorney, Dan Dalton, gave Action News a preview of the building plans that he will present in court Tuesday. Dalton said the church has a right to build there by law.

“It’s really the ideal location and there’s just no other land available,” said Dalton.

Now, Dalton said, there’s a new twist in the case. On Monday night, the Jacksonville Beach City Council changed their code regarding the conditional use of residential properties. According to a memo from the City’s Senior Planner to the City Manager in August, Ordinance 2014-8060 amended the Land Development Code by “changing public and private parks, playgrounds, and recreational facilities from permitted use to conditional use in the city’s five residential zoning districts…In all five residential districts, ‘religious organizations’ are listed as conditional uses…Among other matters, generally, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and construing federal case law requires that assembly uses, such as religious organizations, and parks and recreational facilities, be treated on equal terms. While legal counsel for the City and the Planning Division believe the present LDC regulations as to the City’s residential zoning districts comply with RLUIPA and other applicable federal law, it has been recommended that such regulations be amended to equalize the treatment of religious organizations, and public and private parks, playgrounds, and recreational facilities groups.”

Dalton believes the change was made on purpose, 36 hours before trial.

“They knew they had a problem with the Religious Land Use Act, which is the Act we’re relying on at trial. They were trying, basically to protect themselves in a lawsuit — not to fix a problem, not to make the community better, but to fix themselves for one claim and one lawsuit.” Jacksonville Beach City Attorney Susan Erdelyi declined to comment on the amendment or the pending trial, which begins at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

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