The Petra Presbyterian Church bought a building to relocate its church. But the property is in the middle of an industrial zone that does not permit churches.

Petra is a predominantly Korean congregation. It currently conducts its worship services, and other church-related functions such as weddings and baptisms, in space rented from a nearby Lutheran church.

Purchase Bob Bruss reports online.

In 2000, Petra attempted to buy an existing office building for $2.9 million in an industrial zone that permitted membership organizations, such as union halls, chambers of commerce, and other groups. But the zoning specifically excluded religious organizations.

Petra applied for rezoning to “institutional buildings,” but the local planning commission recommended against rezoning and the city council agreed. Petra then cancelled its purchase contract, which was contingent upon rezoning.

The church then purchased the same property without a rezoning contingency for $300,000 less. Petra then sued the city, claiming the zoning code is unconstitutional for violation of the Equal Protection Clause, Free Exercise Clause, the right to free speech, and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000.

Although the church’s request for a temporary restraining order was denied, in 2003 the church began conducting worship services at its property. The city obtained an injunction to prohibit Petra from conducting worship services and denying occupancy to more than 60 persons. Petra then returned to its worship space rented from the Lutheran church.

The city rezoned additional areas to zones where religious organizations were previously not allowed. However, the rezoning did not include the industrial area where Petra purchased its building.

If you were the judge, would you require the city to allow the Petra Presbyterian Church to conduct religious services in its building within an industrial zone?

The judge said no!

The evidence shows Petra was well aware the property it purchased within an industrial zone did not allow religious services within that area, the judge began.

Although the city opened additional zones to religious organizations where they were not previously allowed, the U.S. Constitution and the federal RLUIPA law do not require all zones be open to religious groups, he explained.

Approximately 70 percent of the land zoning within the city allows religious organizations within those zones, the judge noted. Of the 11 churches that attempted to locate within the city in the last few years, he continued, only Petra failed to comply with the zoning rules, he commented.

Because the city has avoided liability by eliminating its discriminatory zoning provision against religious organizations, the city is not in violation of federal law and does not have to permit Petra to relocate its church within an industrial zone, the judge ruled.

Based on the 2006 U.S. District Court decision in Petra Presbyterian Church v. Village of Northbrook, 409 Fed.Supp.2d 1001.

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center

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