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Liberty Temple Full Gospel Church, Inc., An Illinois Not-For-Profit v. Village of Bolingbrook

April 12, 2012

LIBERTY TEMPLE FULL GOSPEL CHURCH, INC., AN ILLINOIS NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION D/B/A LIBERTY TEMPLE CHURCH OF BOLINGBROOK,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
VILLAGE OF BOLINGBROOK, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harry D. Leinenweber

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's one-count action for violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (the "RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000(a)(1). For the following reasons, the Motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Liberty Temple Church of Bolingbrook ("Liberty Bolingbrook") is a small congregation of less than 100 members, but is a branch of Liberty Temple Full Gospel Church, Inc. ("Liberty Gospel" or "Plaintiff") that has six locations in Chicago, San Diego, Orlando, Philadelphia, Waukegan and the aforementioned Bolingbrook. Liberty Gospel is a not-for-profit organization registered in Illinois. The Village of Bolingbrook (the "Village" or "Defendant") is a public body, a municipal corporation located in DuPage and Will Counties.

Because the Plaintiff is the non-movant for summary judgment, all facts recounted here are based on Plaintiff's evidence unless otherwise indicated.

Members of Liberty Bolingbrook started small in July 2009, holding services in a Holiday Inn in Bolingbrook. Naturally, the church wanted its own home because it would enable it to conduct mid-week services and provide amenities and support to members that a hotel location cannot.

In August 2010, Plaintiff began scouting locations, and thought it had found one at 251 N. Bolingbrook Drive, Bolingbrook, Illinois. The landlord warned them that Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar ("Claar") had definite ideas about what types of occupants he wanted the landlord to rent to and, more specifically, that the mayor disfavored new churches in the Village. The landlord suggested Plaintiff confer with Claar before signing a lease. Plaintiff did, and Claar shot the idea down, allegedly telling Elder Marion Tucker of Liberty Gospel on October 6, 2010 that he "did not want any more churches in Bolingbrook" because "churches do not produce any tax revenue." The mayor also noted the facility had a lack of bathrooms, no handicap access, no fire prevention equipment and a lack of parking.

So, Plaintiff continued its search and found 378 Bolingbrook Commons, located at the northeast corner of the crossroads of Route 55 and Route 53 (Bolingbrook Drive). Again, the new landlord suggested the mayor might not favor the idea. However, because church members believed the location addressed the prior site's deficiencies in handicap access, bathrooms and fire code compliance, they decided to forgo another check-in with the mayor.

Perhaps seeking an authority he considered less subjective, Elder Tucker instead checked the Village zoning code and Village zoning map published on the Village website. As Plaintiff's map exhibit shows there were no zoning designation letter/numbers (e.g., "B-2," "B-3," "B-4," etc.) directly on the parcel in question. Dkt. No. 49-3. Confusingly, the map key designates areas zoned B-1, B-2, B-3 and B-4 by the identical shade of orange. Id. Zones B-2 are reserved for "community retail" uses while Zones B-4 are for "Commercial Urban Development," which allows churches.

The parcel directly to the east of the subject property bears the same orange tone but is clearly marked "B-3" and is additionally separated from the parcel in question by heavy black vertical line.

Directly west of the parcel in question is a parcel bearing the identical orange hue and designated "B-4." There is no heavy black line separating this "B-4" parcel from the parcel in question, although Bolingbrook Drive does bisect them.

Elsewhere on the map, orange parcels that are marked "B-2" are clearly cordoned off from other orange parcels that are designated "B-1," "B-3" or "B-4," by a heavy black line, even when the parcels are divided by a street.

For example, north of the site in question, an orange parcel marked "B-3" sits on the west side of Bolingbrook Drive while an orange parcel marked "B-2" sits on the east side. In addition to being clearly marked by letter/number designations, these parcels are also partitioned by a heavy black vertical line on the B-3 parcel on its Bolingbrook Drive side to further indicate its separation from the B-2 parcel across the street.

The parcel in question, as mentioned, had no letter designation and no heavy black line separating it from the "B-4" parcel across the street. The church took this to mean the parcel in question was also zoned B-4. Both sides agree that under the zoning code, churches are allowed in B-4 areas, but not in B-2 areas. Seeing no zoning issues, the church put down a $2,500 deposit on a 27-month ...


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