05/11/2016: S&A client Christian Community Chapel settles RLUIPA case with Hillsborough Township; Church will convert barn into a new house of worship
The Christian Community Chapel and the township have reached a settlement on a lawsuit filed in January challenging the denial of an application to convert an old barn into a new house of worship, said the church's pastor. . . . Nash said the settlement stipulates that the township will grant all four use variances needed for approval, including the use of the property for a parsonage and sanctuary, the height of a silo to be 45 feet instead of the 35-foot maximum, a setback variance for one of the barns and impervious coverage. . . . In its lawsuit, the Christian Community Chapel alleged its right to the free exercise of religion had been violated in the denial of its application by the board of adjustment.
D. Hutchinson, "N.J. town, church settle federal lawsuit on church plan," NJ Advance Media (May 11, 2016)
03/03/2016: S&G files RLUIPA suit on behalf of Christian Community Chapel Wesleyan Church against Hillsborough Twp., N.J.
On March 3, 2016, the Christian Community Chapel Wesleyan Church filed its amended Complaint in federal court against the Township of Hillsborough and its Zoning Board of Adjustment. The Defendants adopted the unreasonable position that the Church was not permitted under their zoning code to have a parsonage for its minister on the same 14-acre lot as the church building, and also denied a variance to do so. The Church, represented by S&G, states that it "files this action to redress violations of its civil rights caused by the Defendants’ burdensome, discriminatory, and unreasonable land use regulations and intentional conduct that have prohibited and continue to prohibit Christian Community Chapel Wesleyan Church, Inc. from building and operating a place of worship on its property in Hillsborough, New Jersey, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq."
Amended Complaint, Civ. No. 3:16-214 (D.N.J. filed Mar. 3, 2016).
During the hearings before the board, Christian Community Chapel agreed to take down the silo and implement fire safety recommendations made by township Fire Official Chris Weniger, including the installation of a 30,000-gallon underground water tank and sprinklers within the buildings. The church also agreed to a number of conditions, including limiting the number of weddings to 14 per year with no more than two per month, no outdoor weddings, no activity before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m., summer camp and vacation Bible school limited to 150 students and held between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., and no alcohol use on the property. The application failed to garner the five votes on the seven-member board needed to grant a variance.
The lawsuit argues that Christian Community Chapel has "suffered significant financial damages" because of the board's decision. In addition, the suit argues that the township's land use regulations "discriminate" against the church because a parsonage is an accessory use and does not require a use variance. The lawsuit asks the federal court to reverse the board's decision, award damages and pay the church's legal fees.
Mike Deak, "Hillsborough church sues township over rejected plan," myCentralNewJersey.com (Mar. 2, 2016).