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River of Life Kingdom Ministries v. Village of Hazel Crest

July 14, 2008

RIVER OF LIFE KINGDOM MINISTRIES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VILLAGE OF HAZEL CREST, ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the court are two motions: (1) plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction [5]; and (2) defendant's motion to supplement the record [28]. For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion is granted and plaintiff's motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural Posture

On February 15, 2008, plaintiff, River of Life Kingdom Ministries ("the Church"), filed a motion for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") and preliminary injunction. The motion seeks to enjoin the Village of Hazel Crest (the "Village") from enforcing certain provisions of its Zoning Ordinance because of alleged violations of the Equal Terms provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc ("RLUIPA"), and the Church's First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Following expedited briefing, the court denied the motion for a TRO on February 27, 2008, informing the parties of the decision at a status hearing and subsequently issuing a written order. A preliminary injunction hearing was held on March 13, 2008, delayed, in part, by the counsel for the Village's vacation and trial schedule.

Following the hearing, upon request of the parties, the court allowed post-hearing briefs, requiring opening briefs on March 24, 2008 and responses on March 31, 2008.*fn1 Due to flooding in plaintiff's counsel's offices, on March 27, 2008, the court granted the Church's unopposed motion for extension of the briefing schedule through April 2, 2008.

On April 9, 2008, the Village filed a motion to supplement the preliminary injunction hearing record, noticed for April 17, 2008. The supplemental evidence is a copy of Ordinance No. 07-2008 (the "Amended Ordinance").*fn2 The Church filed a memorandum in opposition. At the motion call on April 17, 2008, the court invited further briefing on the impact of the proposed supplemental evidence on the preliminary injunction motion and requested that the parties also more thoroughly address the relationship between the Equal Terms provision of RLUIPA and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The Village filed a supplemental memorandum on April 28, 2008. Following expedited discovery, on May 2, 2008, the Church filed its final brief on this matter. On May 12, 2008, the Village filed another supplemental submission regarding the impact of the Amended Ordinance. The matter is now fully briefed and ready for decision.

B. Facts*fn3

The Church has approximately sixty-seven congregants, about half of whom regularly attend services. The Church's pastor and president is Barbara Alexander ("Pastor Alexander"). The Church holds a Sunday service and a Wednesday night Bible study, in addition to a women's ministry every third Saturday of the month. It currently leases shared space on a month-to-month basis, but the premises are available only for five or six hours a week and are poorly maintained. The Church wants to expand its ministry activities to include a literacy program, mentoring program for young men, bookstore, and assistance to start-up businesses. To this end, the Church began looking for property to purchase.

The Village has a population of almost 15,000. In January 2001, it adopted a Tax Increment Financing ("TIF") plan and designated the area known as "Hazel Crest Proper," near the Metra station, as a TIF District. Pursuant to the TIF plan, the Village was allowed to freeze the amount of property taxes schools, parks, and other bodies get from the TIF District for twenty-three years. As taxes increase, the Village keeps the amount over and above the level at which the taxes were frozen as a "tax increment" to apply to further development in the TIF District. The Village has amassed over $500,000 in TIF funds, although it has not spent any of it as of this date. The Village hopes to attract "transit-oriented development," specifically businesses of interest to commuters such as convenience stores and dry cleaners, although no new businesses have come into the area pursuant to the TIF as of this date. The Village has begun work developing parking facilities and bicycle trails, securing over $450,000 in grant money. In March 2007, the Village issued a Comprehensive Plan that outlined its vision, goals, and objectives for the future, including commercial development of Hazel Crest Proper.

On October 29, 2007, the Church bought the property located at 16842 Park Avenue, Hazel Crest, Illinois, for $159,900. The Church intended to convert the property, an old warehouse and office, to use as a church. It chose the building because of its size, location, and price and because it believed Hazel Crest was a good location in which to establish itself. The property is located in the "B-2 Service Business District" at the far north-east corner of the Village's TIF District. However, the Village Zoning Ordinance does not permit churches in the B-2 District because that area is reserved for commercial development. The Church knew about the TIF, but, relying on a superseded 1998 version of the Zoning Ordinance and erroneous legal advice, believed that it could obtain a "Special Use Permit." Therefore, it did not foresee a problem when it agreed to waive the zoning contingency in the sales contract for the property. The Church applied to the Village for a Special Use Permit on September 9, 2007. On November 26, 2007, the Planning & Zoning Commission advised the Village that it did not recommend approval of a permit. Subsequently, on January 8, 2008, the Village Board of Trustees voted against granting the Church permission to use the premises as a church. The Village sent the Church a letter on January 11, 2008, informing it of the decision. The Church then sued the Village asking for: (1) a declaratory judgment that the Zoning Ordinance violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and RLUIPA; (2) an order enjoining the enforcement of the Zoning Ordinance (and therefore requiring the Village to allow the Church to occupy the property); and (3) monetary damages.

C. The Amended Ordinance

On April 8, 2008, the Village Board of Trustees unanimously voted to adopt Ordinance No. 07-2008: An Ordinance Amending the Hazel Crest Zoning Ordinance by Amending the Permitted and Special Uses in the B-2 Zoning District. The Agenda for the Village Board meeting explained:

Several special uses in the B-2 Zoning District do not contribute to the tax base of the Village and are viewed as incompatible with commercial development and redevelopment. On that basis, such uses are viewed as not being appropriate land uses for the B-2 Zoning District. The Village Attorney has drafted an ordinance that eliminates some of the existing uses in the B-2 District and leaves a list of uses identified in the proposed ordinance. A total of 11 Permitted Use categories remain and 3 Special Use Categories.

Agenda, Regular Village Board Meeting ¶ 8(E) (Apr. 8, 2008), attached as exhibit to Def.'s Supp. Submission. The Amended Ordinance includes as Permitted Uses: (1) all general commercial and retail uses; (2) automobile service stations including indoor car wash; (3) dry-cleaning establishments; (4) hotels and motels; (5) medical and dental clinics, including optical; (6) mixed use developments consisting of allowable commercial uses on the ground floor, and residential uses above the first floor; (7) business and professional offices; (8) commercial gymnasiums, health clubs, and salons; (9) restaurants, including the serving of alcoholic beverages if incidental to the serving of food as the principal activity; (10) taverns or cocktail lounges, but not including live entertainment or dancing; and (11) accessory uses to the above permitted uses. It eliminates as Permitted Uses art galleries, funeral parlors, and meeting halls.

It eliminates as enumerated Special Uses art galleries and museums, day-care centers,*fn4 schools, libraries, and recreational buildings and community centers.

The Church challenges the validity of the amendment, arguing that the Village did not follow proper procedures. It raises the issue as a legal argument in support of its preliminary injunction motion, not as a claim. The Village, a home rule municipality, contends that it complied with all substantive statutory and due process requirements and offers documentary evidence in support. Specifically, it offers proof that it publicized the public hearing on the Amended Ordinance sixteen days in advance, that it provided notice of the meeting to counsel for the Church, that it held a public meeting at the time and date publicized, and that the Board of Trustees voted to adopt the Amended Ordinance. See Def.'s Supp. Submission.

Illinois law requires only "notice of the time and place of the hearing, not more than 30 nor less than 15 days before the hearing" for zoning amendments. See 65 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/11-13-14. It is well-established that a court "may not hold invalid [a] disputed ordinance unless it was enacted in violation of a constitutional provision or a provision of a State or Federal Statute." Landmarks Pres. Council of Ill. v. City of Chicago, 531 N.E.2d 9, 15 (Ill. 1988). The Church alleges no such violation. Instead, it argues that the Village's failure to comply with the procedural requirements of its own zoning ordinance renders the Amended Ordinance invalid. However, the cases it cites for this proposition are factually distinguishable from the case at bar and from Landmarks. See, e.g., Tierney v. Vill. of Schaumburg, 538 N.E.2d 904, 907 (Ill. App. Ct. 1989) (enjoining a municipality's action which was in violation of its own valid ordinance, namely a construction project that did not meet minimum right of way requirements); People ex rel. ...


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