Freedom of religion is an important aspect of American culture, especially in the area of land use and zoning. Faith communities interested in establishing centers of congregation have certain access rights that cannot be ignored without limiting their ability to practice their faith. A good example of how such issues can play out is a Department of Justice lawsuit filed against the City of St. Anthony Village in connection with the rejection of a proposal to build an Islamic center back in 2012.
The St. Anthony City Council apparently voted 4-1 against the proposal on the grounds that the project was not in line with the proposed site's categorization as a light-industrial zone. That decision was made despite the fact that the St. Anthony City Planning Commission recommended the project be approved.
In its lawsuit, the Department of Justice alleges that the rejection constituted discrimination in violation of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. The city denies the allegation and defends its decision as necessary to protect the limited amount of industrial area in the city.
It remains, of course, to be seen how the case will be handled. For our readers, it is a reminder of the important role zoning and land use can play in a building project. Real estate developers and business developers know all too well the challenges that can come up in the process of receiving approval for new projects. When issues come up, it can help a great deal to work with an experienced attorney in navigating regulations and various government boards.
Source: Star Tribune, "Feds sue city of St. Anthony over rejection of Islmaic center," Shannon Prather & Randy Furst, August 27, 2014.