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Church v. Village of Northbrook

January 11, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Blanche M. Manning


Plaintiff Petra Presbyterian Church bought land in Northbrook, Illinois, to open a church. The problem for Petra is that its land is in the middle of an industrial park where churches aren't allowed. Nevertheless, Petra still wants to locate in the industrial park, and has sued Northbrook claiming that the village's zoning code violates federal and state laws, as well as the Constitution. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the court denies Petra's seven motions for partial summary judgment, grants Northbrook's motion for summary judgment on Petra's federal claims, and declines to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims.


The following is culled from the parties' statements of fact and exhibits. Petra is a Presbyterian church with a predominantly Korean congregation. It conducts its worship services and other church-related functions like weddings and baptisms in space rented from a Lutheran church in Glenview, Illinois.

For the past ten years, Petra has been searching for a building of its own. Unable to find an existing church for sale in the right place and at the right price, in 2000 Petra settled on property in Northbrook's Sky Harbor Industrial Park. Petra planned to convert an existing office building and warehouse into a church.

Sky Harbor lies in an area of Northbrook zoned I-1. Under the 1988 zoning code that was in effect at the time, I-1 zoning was reserved mainly for industrial uses, but also permitted membership organizations such as union halls, chambers of commerce and other organizations that would compliment area businesses. The I-1 zone specifically excluded use by religious organizations. Though use of the Sky Harbor property as a church was specifically excluded, and though the property was surrounded by manufacturing facilities such as a grinding and polishing business, a tool and die business, and a heating and air conditioning company, Petra decided that the property suited its needs.

In October 2000, Petra agreed to buy the Sky Harbor property for $2.9 million. The sales contract included a contingency clause that allowed Petra to back out if it was unable to obtain the rezoning it would need to operate a church. At the same time Petra applied for rezoning of the property to IB (institutional buildings), the only zone in which religious organizations were permitted.

Several months later the Northbrook Plan Commission held public hearings on Petra's application for rezoning. To alleviate concerns expressed by commissioners during the hearing, Petra supplemented its application with a list of 13 suggested conditions that it volunteered to follow in order to obtain rezoning. Despite the newly-suggested conditions, in April 2001 the Plan Commission recommended against rezoning.

The application was then presented to the Village Board. In May 2001 the Board asked its staff to prepare documents denying Petra's application for rezoning, deferring until its next meeting an actual vote on the application. But before the Board's next meeting, Petra withdrew its application and the Board never voted on it.

Having failed to obtain a rezoning, Petra exercised the zoning contingency clause and terminated its contract to buy the Sky Harbor property. However, within months it struck a new deal to buy the property, this time without a zoning contingency and for the discounted price of $2.6 million, $300,000 less than the original price. Petra completed its purchase in October 2001.

Petra filed this suit in March 2003 and sought a temporary restraining order preventing the village from enforcing its zoning code, claiming that the code violated the Equal Protection Clause, the Free Exercise Clause, the right to free speech, and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc. It later amended its complaint to add claims that the code violated the Establishment Clause, as well as state law claims of vested rights, legal nonconforming use, unreasonable classification and restraint, arbitrary or capricious restriction, and a claim under the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 35/15.

Although Petra's request for a temporary restraining order was immediately denied, two months later on May 4, 2003, it began conducting worship services at the Sky Harbor property. When the village discovered what Petra was doing, it notified Petra that it was violating Northbrook's building code by having too many people on its premises. On June 18, 2003, the village obtained a preliminary injunction from the Circuit Court of Cook County preventing Petra from conducting worship services and limiting occupancy to 60 persons at all other times. By then, Petra had returned to its rented space in Glenview.

In the meantime Northbrook amended its zoning code in 2003 so that all membership organizations were excluded from I-1 zones, including the business-related organizations that under the 1988 version of the code were allowed. The village also opened up additional zones to religious organizations where they previously were not allowed. Religious organizations had been allowed only in the IB zone, but now were permitted as of right in two residential districts (R-1 and R-2), and in an additional 16 districts after obtaining a special permit.

Petra returned to federal court and attempted to get a preliminary injunction to prevent Northbrook from enforcing its zoning code, but that too was denied. The parties then filed motions for summary judgment. Northbrook filed a single motion seeking summary judgment on all of Petra's claims. Petra, on the other hand, filed a total of seven motions for partial summary judgment in a transparent effort to evade the page limitation. But because Petra's arguments are unpersuasive at any length, all of its motions are denied. Northbrook's motion, on the other hand, is granted as to all of Petra's federal claims. No federal claims ...

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