As reported by Action News 38, here, https://www.actionnewsjax.com/news/news/local/church-attorney-jacksonville-beach-changed-religio/nhN29/
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.
The attorneys of Dalton & Tomich, PLC have the experience and the knowledge to work with you to develop a legal solution that helps accomplish your goals. Our collaborative approach has helped leaders like you grow businesses and banks, develop and expand churches, and build nonprofit organizations nationwide.
In my role as Administrative Bishop for the Church of God, quite often we are faced with issues that involve local governments and municipalities. Many of these issues that arise in dealing with entities are land use related. I have found Dalton & Tomich’s experience and expertise in this area to be a valuable resource and asset in every situation.
Never one time during a year-long litigation process did Dalton & Tomich demonstrate anything other than Christ-like professionalism. They managed the legal details, while we continued to do church. How they managed themselves, managed our case, and represented our church set the table for me and our church to be where we are today.
Dalton & Tomich’s expertise and experience helped us through a very difficult legal journey, ultimately achieving a favorable outcome. Their personal interest in helping us went “above and beyond” just the call of duty.