St. John United Church of Christ v. Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, Ind.
05/06/2015: Effort to rezone and demolish church wins key battle in Cumberland, Indiana
Indianapolis' Metropolitan Development Commission voted 4-2 in favor of a developer's request to rezone site with a formerly landmarked church owned by S&G client St. John Untied Church of Christ.
Church leaders say the aging building needs at least $750,000 in repairs—money the dwindling congregation doesn’t have. It’s building a new and smaller church on part of a 50-acre tract the church owns at the northwest corner of East Prospect Street and Carroll Road.
S. Olson, "Giant Eagle wins battle to demolish church," Indianapolis Business Journal (May 6, 2015).
Residents who are fighting to preserve the church posted on their Facebook page, "The Town of Cumberland is very disappointed. The MDC voted 4-2 in favor of the rezoning request, meaning the church is one step closer to being razed.
Associated Press, "Panel approves rezoning request to allow Cumberland church demolition," WTHR.com (May 6, 2015)
02/11/2015: Local preservationists oppose church demolition plans
Preservationists are opposed to the replacement of a crumbling church structure, claiming that "there's a broader community interest here," and "It's kind of their symbol of their community, if you will." S&G previously filed suit on behalf of the St. John United Church of Christ, resulting in the removal of its historic landmark designation
In 2010, it had an agreement with the former Gershman Brown Crowley developer to build a CVS. But the city of Indianapolis stepped in to protect the church by granting it landmark status. The church, in turn, filed a federal lawsuit saying the designation by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission violated their constitutional rights to freely exercise their religion. The lawsuit was settled in 2011 when the church agreed to give the preservation group Indiana Landmarks six months to find a buyer that would save the building. The city rescinded the designation, according to the terms of the settlement, when it couldn’t find a buyer.
S. Olson, "Historic Church once again target of demolition," Indianapolis Business Journal (Feb. 6, 2015)
In early 2010, representatives from CVS were in talks with church leaders to buy the building for “significantly more” than what is being offered by Giant Eagle, Watson said.
Word of the transaction sparked a scramble among historic preservationists, and the Indianapolis-Marion County Metropolitan Development Commission designated it a historic area to prevent the building's demolition. CVS also walked away from the deal.
Later that year, leaders of St. John United filed a lawsuit claiming that city officials meddled in the functions of the church by forcing a historic designation. The church won the case and the designation was removed.
J. Mack, "Church, Cumberland officials at odds over fate of century-old building," IndyStar (Feb. 10, 2015)
J. Brilliant, "Community rallies to save historic east Indianapolis church," WTHR (Feb. 9, 2015)
02/01/2012: Indianapolis rescinds historic designation of St. John United Church of Christ
On February 1, 2012, after the St. John United Church of Christ (represented by Storzer & Greene) filed suit against the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, the Metropolitan Development Commission of Marion County, and the City of Indianapolis for designating its church as a historic landmark, the MDC rescinded the historic designation of the Church's property. The resolution reads as follows:
RESOLUTION NO. 2012-IHPC-001 (For Public Hearing) Amends the Comprehensive Plan of Marion County, Indiana, by rescinding the adoption of St. John United Church of Christ Historic Area Preservation Plan 38 (SJC) – St. John United Church of Christ Historic Area, and by removing the St. John United Church of Christ Historic Area Preservation Plan as a segment of the Comprehensive Plan
"This is an important day for religious freedom," said Church attorney Roman Storzer. "A city should not, and cannot, place the importance of a building over the course of a church's future worship and other ministries." The Metropolitan Development Commission's hearing on the matter can be viewed here (the discussion on the Church's matter begins at 20:08 on the recording). The notice of the Metropolitan Development Commission's February 1, 2012 meeting, which includes the Resolution, can be found here. Background on the Church's lawsuit can be found here.
07/21/2011: Indianapolis Business Journal reports on S&G client St. John United Church of Christ’s lawsuit challenging the historic landmark designation of its church building
A provisional settlement in a federal lawsuit filed last September against the city by St. John United Church of Christ gives parties in the case six months to find a buyer for the nearly 100-year-old church at the northeast corner of Washington Street and German Church Road. . . . The church planned to use the proceeds of the sale to build a $3 million church at Prospect Street and Carroll Road that would have the amenities necessary to boost membership and lift the church out of financial distress. The shrinking congregation said it lacked the means to pay for $1.3 million in utility bills, maintenance and capital projects needed at the old church.
“There is a presumptive settlement under which the church could sell its property and build elsewhere and the preservationists could save the building,” said Roman P. Storzer, an attorney with Storzer & Greene, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that represents the church. The firm specializes in religious land-use cases. “The church is working in good faith to find a solution that works for everybody.” Storzer said either party could revive the case, filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, within a year if the dispute isn’t resolved. . . .
The clock started ticking on the settlement in April. If after six months there is no resolution, the city agreed in the settlement to begin the process of lifting the historic designation.
Tom Harton, "Tentative settlement reached in lawsuit over historic church,” Indianapolis Business Journal (June 21, 2011).
09/23/2010: Media coverage of lawsuit against Indianapolis in church landmarking case
“The effect of the landmarking is to seriously damage the congregation and also virtually ensure the building will become a ruin. There is simply no way to preserve it, given the financial resources of the congregation,” said Robert L. Greene, an attorney representing the church with Washington, D.C.-based Storzer & Greene. The firm specializes in trying religious land-use cases nationwide.
Greg Andrews, "Church with rich history sues to shed ‘historic’ label,” Indianapolis Business Journal (Sept. 18, 2010).
Charlie Butts, “Church challenges forced landmarking,” One News Now (Sept. 23, 2010).
Religious liberty is being pitted against historic preservation in a federal lawsuit filed this month against the city of Indianapolis. . . . Robert L. Greene contends that Indianapolis officials have violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, passed in 2000 as a means of affirming special protection for churches, synagogues, mosques and other facilities with religious uses. "The effect of the present designation is that they can't really function as they should as a church," Greene said.
Bill McCleery, Historic building constraints prompt church to sue city,” (page 2) Indianapolis Star (Sept. 27, 2010)
09/10/2010: S&G files complaint in federal court on behalf of St. John United Church of Christ in Cumberland, Indiana, challenging Indianapolis’ landmarking of its church building
“This action effectively requires the Church to maintain an ineffective and inefficient structure—one that it can no longer afford—in perpetuity,” stated Church attorney Roman P. Storzer. “This, the Constitution and federal law do not allow.”
Read the media release here and Complaint here.