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March 30, 2001


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hibbler, District Judge.


CLUB and a collection of individual churches ("Plaintiffs") and the City of Chicago ("Defendant") filed cross motions for summary judgment; also, the City filed a motion for summary judgment on Count XIV of Plaintiffs' Fourth Amended Complaint, i.e. the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The issues have been fully briefed and thus are now ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, this Court GRANTS Defendant's motion for summary judgment (doc. # 126), DENIES Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment (doc. # 128) and GRANTS Defendant's motion for summary judgment on Count XIV of Plaintiffs' fourth amended complaint (doc. # 151).


Prior Opinions and Procedural History

On October 11, 1994, Plaintiffs filed their first complaint in this case; on November 9, 2000, Plaintiffs filed their fourth amended complaint, which is currently before this court. Plaintiffs' prior complaints were the subject of five written opinions by Judge Andersen and a published opinion by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which held Aldermen William Banks and Patrick Huels to be absolutely protected by legislative immunity for their particular actions related to zoning ordinances. See C.L.U.B. v. City of Chicago, No. 94 C 6151, 1996 WL 89241 (N.D.Ill. Feb. 27, 1996) ("CLUB I"), rev'd in part by Biblia Abierta v. Banks, 129 F.3d 899 (7th Cir. 1997); C.L.U.B. v. City of Chicago, No. 94 C 6151, 1996 WL 697630 (N.D.Ill. Nov. 20, 1996) ("CLUB II"); C.L.U.B. v. City of Chicago, No. 94 C 6151, 1997 WL 43226 (N.D.Ill. Jan. 27, 1997) ("CLUB III"), rev'd by Biblia Abierta; C.L.U.B. v. City of Chicago, No. 94 C 6151, 1997 WL 94731 (N.D.Ill. Feb. 28, 1997) ("CLUB IV"); C.L.U.B. v. City of Chicago, No. 94 C 6151, 1997 WL 102552 (N.D.Ill. Mar. 6, 1997) ("CLUB V"), rev'd in part by Biblia Abierta.

Chicago Zoning Ordinances

The regulation of land uses within the City is set forth as the Zoning Ordinance in Title 17 of the Municipal Code of Chicago. Generally, the City is divided into several broad use districts: Residence ("R"), Business ("B"), Commercial ("C"), or Manufacturing ("M"). Each zone contains various subdistricts (e.g.R1, R2, R3, etc.); the Zoning Ordinance also sets forth the uses allowed within each sub-district. These zoning categories apply to all property except that zoned as a Planned Development. Approximately 40% of the City is zoned as R districts, with the remaining parts of the City divided into B, C, or M districts.

Within each sub-district, certain uses are allowed as of right ("permitted uses"), while other uses are allowed as "special uses" and require approval from the City's Zoning Board of Appeals ("ZBA") and still other uses are prohibited under any circumstances. The ZBA will consider an application for a special use permit only after a public hearing is noticed and held, and a written report is prepared and filed with the ZBA by the Commissioner of Planning and Development. Art. 11.10-2. In considering whether to grant a special use permit, the ZBA makes an ad hoc determination as to what impact the special use will have on other entities in the district. Art. 11.10-1. A permit will not be granted unless the special use: (1) complies with public convenience; (2) does not threaten public health, safety, and welfare; (3) does not diminish the value of nearby property; (4) complies with Articles 7, 8, and 9 of the Chicago Zoning Ordinance; and, (5) conforms with applicable regulations in the district. Art. 11.10-4. Further, the Commissioner of Planning and Development may recommend, and the ZBA may consider in its discretion, other factors, e.g. off-street parking and loading. Art. 11.10-5. Upon receiving an application, the ZBA often notifies the alderman of the respective ward for which the special use permit application was filed and may consider the input of the alderman on whether a special use permit should be granted for a particular location. Additionally, the ZBA permits neighbors and community groups to testify at its hearings concerning the pending application. The overall cost of obtaining a special use permit ranges from $4,000 to $5,000; moreover, if property is used in violation of the Zoning Ordinance, the City may impose daily fines and issue injunctions.

In particular, the Zoning Ordinance treats churches as follows: (a) within all R districts, churches are permitted uses as of right; (b) within all B districts, churches are special uses, and thus must obtain a permit to locate in these areas; (c) within C1, C2 and C3 districts, churches are also special uses; and (d) within the C4 district and all M districts, churches are not permitted. Art. 7-10. The treatment of churches today within the various districts is largely the same as it was in 1957, the year in which the Zoning Ordinance was last comprehensively amended.

In each of their complaints, Plaintiffs have argued churches require special use permits to locate in B and C districts, while other similar uses may locate in B, C and M districts as permitted uses. In response to this litigation, the City Council recently amended the Zoning Ordinance as to certain uses Plaintiffs maintain are similar to churches. Chicago City Council Journal of Proceedings, February 16, 2000, p. 25997-26013. Under the amended ordinance, "clubs and lodges," "meeting halls," and "recreation buildings and community centers" are now required to obtain special use permits to locate in B and C districts, the same as churches. However, unlike churches, none of these allegedly similar uses are permitted uses in all R districts. Further, with respect to only churches, the amendments to the Zoning Ordinance removed the requirement for a special use permit that an applicant affirmatively demonstrate the proposed use is "necessary for the public convenience at that location." See Employment Div., Dept. of Human Res. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 110 S.Ct. 1595, 108 L.Ed.2d 876 (1990) ("[C]ourts must not presume to determine the place of a particular belief in a religion or the plausibility of a religious claim."). Further, the amended ordinance automatically grants a special use permit if the ZBA does not render a decision within 120 days of the date of a church's application.

Factual History*fn1

Plaintiff Civil Liberties for Urban Believers ("CLUB") is an unincorporated association of approximately 40 to 50 churches located in Chicago, Illinois and the surrounding suburbs.*fn2 CLUB challenges zoning laws it maintains restrict the free exercise of religion and other freedoms of its own members. The individual member churches of CLUB are incorporated as Illinois religious or not-for-profit corporations and range in size from 15 to 15,000 members. In the present action, CLUB and five of its individual church members, Christ Center, Christian Covenant Outreach Church ("Christian Covenant"), His Word Ministries to All Nations ("His Word"), Christian Bible Church ("Christian Bible"), and Monte De Sion Church ("Mount Zion"), allege fourteen counts in their Fourth Amended Complaint arising from zoning challenges.

Christ Center began meeting in a high school auditorium in 1990, but soon experienced difficulties at this location due to various school functions that interrupted weekly worship. As a result, Christ Center began searching for a building to purchase. The church was unsuccessful in locating an appropriate building in any R districts. In the summer of 1992, Christ Center located a suitable building at 1139-43 West Madison in Chicago. The building was located in a C district and Christ Center promptly applied for a special use permit. After completing the application process, Christ Center reached out to gain the support of neighbors and Alderman Theodore Mazola. Most neighbors favored a taxpaying entity in the neighborhood rather than a church and Alderman Mazola stated that he would support the church's special use permit on any street but Madison. The Zoning Board eventually convened a special hearing on September 18, 1992. On October 18, 1992, the special use permit was denied. Christ Center subsequently found a second building in an M district at 123 South Morgan. The owner of the building also agreed to provide financing. However, the Chicago Department of Planning and Development informed Christ Center that it would oppose any rezoning application because the particular area was designated to become an entertainment area and the presence of a church would inhibit such development. Christ Center subsequently choose not to file an application for rezoning. In the fall of 1993, Christ Center obtained property at 4445 So. King Drive, successfully obtained a special use permit and now operates a church at this location. Christ Center now claims that it paid substantial sums in attorneys fees, appraisal fees, zoning application charges, title charges and other expenses attempting to find suitable property.

Between 1986 and the summer of 1988, Christian Bible met in a private home. The church eventually outgrew this space and began meeting in a funeral home. The funeral home, however, proved aesthetically and administratively problematic. In 1990, Christian Bible located a suitable building in a B district at 83rd and Essex. Alderman Beavers promptly informed Christian Bible that "he would not allow" a church at that location. Consequently, Christian Bible did not apply for a special use permit at this location. In March 1991, Christian Bible purchased property in another B district at 513-23 East 75th Street. The Park Manor Neighbors Association and Alderman Steele both opposed the church's special use permit application. On May 17, 1991, the permit was denied. Christian Bible then unsuccessfully attempted to sell the building for 10 months. In February 1992, Christian Bible renovated the building to enhance its appearance. During these renovations, the church rented space at another location, or held meetings at private homes. Christian Bible later reapplied for a special use permit which was granted on August 20, 1993 with the support of neighbors in the district. Christian Bible now claims the delay in obtaining a special use permit prevented the church from obtaining a real estate tax exemption. The church further alleges that it also paid substantial sums in expenses related to the application process and also suffered a decrease in membership. Christian Bible now owns and meets at a church at 6210 S. St. Louis and has successfully obtained a special use permit to operate the church.

From February, 1988 to December, 1993, Mount Zion rented space in a C district at 4545 North Kedzie. During this period, Mount Zion never applied for a special use permit. In 1990, a City inspector ordered Mount Zion to vacate the building. In April 1993, Mount Zion located suitable rental property at 3949 North Pulaski, and applied for a special use permit. During this process, the Zoning Board informed Mount Zion that the building lacked adequate parking accommodations for a church and both the building and each parking lot would require special use permits. Alderman Wojcik and a neighborhood group also opposed Mount Zion's application. Consequently, Mount Zion withdrew its application for a special use permit. Mount Zion now owns and meets in a church at 3807 N. Lavergne.

On November 1, 1992, Christian Covenant first rented property in a C district. The owner of the building offered to cosign a loan enabling Christian Covenant to purchase the property. However, City inspectors ordered Christian Covenant to stop using the building as a church without a special use permit. As a result, Christian Covenant did not purchase the building out of fear the City would not allow the building to be used as ...

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