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The Church of Our Lord v. City of Markham

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 13, 2018

The Church of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Plaintiff,
City of Markham, Illinois, Defendant.


          Ronald A. Guzmán, United States District Judge.

         For the reasons stated below, the City's motion for summary judgment [128] is granted and the Church's motion for partial summary judgment [137] is denied. Civil case terminated.


         The Church of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (“Plaintiff” or “the Church”), a small religious congregation operating out of what used to be a private residence in the City of Markham, Illinois alleges in the instant suit that the City has violated the substantial-burden, unreasonable-limitations, and equal-terms provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc (“RLUIPA”), and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 35/15, and that it has applied its Zoning Code to Plaintiff in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Plaintiff seeks both injunctive relief and damages. Defendant contends that Plaintiff's claims are not ripe and that they fail on the merits in any event. Defendant moves for summary judgment on all claims while Plaintiff cross-moves for partial summary judgment.


         The City of Markham (the “City”) is an Illinois municipal corporation located entirely within Cook County, Illinois. (Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s. Stmt. Facts, Dkt. # 139, ¶ 1.) The Chruch is an Illinois not-for-profit corporation. (Id. ¶ 2.) The Church's pastor is Reginald McCracken, and Cheryl Lawrence is a Church trustee whose duties involve handling the Church's finances. (Id. ¶ 2.) The Church currently meets and holds worship services in a former single-family residence located at 16018 S. Spaulding Avenue, Markham, Illinois (hereinafter the “Property”). (Id. ¶ 4.). The Property is a parcel that is approximately 120 feet wide and 132 feet deep and is actually made up of three 40-foot-wide lots that were consolidated into one parcel. (Id.) The Property is in the City's R-3 One-Family Residential Zoning District. (Id. ¶ 6.)

         Before the Property became a meeting location for the Church, it was the personal home of McCracken. (Id. ¶ 5.) The Property was acquired by McCracken in 1985, who lived there until he moved out in 2012 because the Church needed more room at the Property. (Id.) According to McCracken, in 2003 while the Property was still his personal residence, it started becoming a meeting place for the Church; at that time the number of people that would gather at the Property fluctuated between 10 and 20. (Id. ¶ 8.) There are no facts to show that the City was aware in 2003 to 2004 that the Property had become a meeting place for the Church. (Id.) From 2003 until roughly 2006, when the Property was deeded to the Church, the Church was “constantly” looking for a different piece of property to accommodate an anticipated Church growth period. (Id. ¶ 14.) The Church also owns two other properties on the same side of Spaulding Avenue and just south of the Property. (Id. ¶ 12.) The plot bordering the Property to the immediate south at 16032 Spaulding Avenue is a single-family residence in which Cheryl Lawrence resides. (Id.) The second property owned by the Church is just south of 16032 Spaulding and is a single-family residence at 16036 Spaulding, where McCracken has lived since he moved out of the subject Property in 2012. (Id. ¶ 14.)

         In June 2005, the Church, through Cheryl Lawrence, came to the City seeking approval of a plan to demolish the attached garage on the Property, which totaled approximately 730 square feet, in order to build in its place a new chapel structure proposed to be approximately 3, 816 square feet. (Id. ¶ 15.) Alderwoman Geraldine Dudeck testified that prior to the City Plan Commission's considering the Church's proposal, she had received calls from two or three residents who lived near the Church complaining that their driveways were blocked by churchgoers' cars. (Id. ¶ 18.) At the July 13, 2005 meeting of the Plan Commission, members expressed concerns about the inadequacy of parking at the Property and the blocking of personal driveways. (Id. ¶ 17.) After a public hearing, the City's Plan Commission did not recommend approval of the plan, finding that “parking space [was] inadequate & footage requirements were not met for the City of Markham requirements.” (Defs.' Ex. 20.) On October 5, 2005 the City Council concurred with the Plan Commission's recommendation and denied the Church's petition. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Stmt. Facts, Dkt. # 139, ¶ 21.)[1]

         Between 2006 and 2011, building permit applications were submitted from time to time for the Property for minor work such as roof repair on July 11, 2008 and bathroom rehabilitation on November 13, 2008. (Id. ¶ 25.) These applications listed Reginald McCracken as the Property owner. (Id.)

         In and around July 2012, the Church began the conversion of the Property's garage into a chapel at a cost in excess of $40, 000.00. (Id. ¶ 26, 28.) The parties dispute whether the Church obtained all the necessary permits for the renovation work, which included construction of the sanctuary, changing the windows on the Property, and installing pews, an air conditioning and heating system, a sound system, new flooring, and a roof. (Id. ¶ 27.) On or about July 30, 2012, the Church sought and obtained a permit from the City to put a new roof and gutters on the Property as well as to install drywall and insulation. (Id. ¶ 31.) On the permit application for the new roof and gutters, the property type was designated as “residential” and “McCracken” was listed as the owner of the Property. (Id.) The permit application indicated that the estimated cost of labor and materials for the work was $12, 000.00 and did not mention interior renovations to convert the garage and connector room into a sanctuary. (Id.) The Church acknowledges that it “may not have obtained a building permit for all the work the City now contends required a building permit” but notes that the City's Chief Building Inspector TyWayne Wilson testified before the Plan Commission on August 14, 2013 that the Church had “permits to do a large majority of the work.” (Id. ¶ 32.) The new sanctuary measures approximately 1, 180 square feet. (Id. ¶ 30.) Also around July 2012, the Church installed two crosses on the front of the Property. (Id. ¶ 33.)

         On November 16, 2012, the City filed a complaint for injunctive relief against the Church in the Circuit Court of Cook County based on the Church's alleged failure to obtain a conditional use permit to operate a church in a residential zoning district, and because of safety concerns at the Property and in the neighborhood. (Id. ¶ 34.) The case remains pending but has been placed on hold by the state-court judge given the pendency of this federal-court action. (Id.)

         On March 12, 2013, before the state matter was stayed, the state court ordered safety inspections of the Property, which uncovered several issues of concern. (Id. ¶ 35.) The state court sua sponte entered a temporary order restricting where the Church members could park and temporarily ordered the Church members not to park on the streets. (Id. ¶ 36.) As a result of the City's enforcement actions, the Church made several safety improvements. (Id.) The state court denied the Church's motion to dismiss the City's complaint. (Id. ¶ 38.) Subsequently, the Church sought to continue the state-court case to give it time to apply for a conditional use permit with the City. (Id.) The state court granted the request, but imposed interim parking restrictions on Church attendees. (Id.) In April 2013, the Church submitted to the City a Plan Commission Application for a conditional use. (Id. ¶ 39.) The application did not contain a request for a variance from the parking requirements of the City's Zoning Code or ask to be excused from some or all of the Zoning Code parking requirements due to hardship. (Id.)

         The Church's 2013 Plan Commission Application for a conditional use first went before the City Planning and Zoning Commission (hereinafter “Plan Commission”) on May 8, 2013, at which time the Plan Commission members expressed their concern to the Church representatives in attendance that parking at the Property was insufficient. (Id. ¶ 40.) At the conclusion of the May 8, 2013 meeting, the Plan Commission voted to not recommend the Church's Plan Commission Application for a conditional use. (Id. ¶ 42.)

         Thereafter, the Church's conditional use application went before the City Council in June 2013, which remanded the matter back to the Plan Commission for more factfinding. (Id. ¶ 43.) Specifically, the City Council wanted reports generated from City staff and the City's consulting engineers. (Id.) Staff from the City's building and fire departments as well as engineers from the City's engineering consulting firm investigated the Property and prepared reports concerning the Property. (Id. ¶ 44.) Among other items that were noted in the reports, the City's fire department approved an occupancy of 45 persons for the Property, but noted that some safety issues still needed to be addressed, including the installation of an emergency exit sign over the kitchen door. (Id. ¶ 45.) In its report of July 23, 2013, the City's civil engineer consultant noted that off-street parking and loading requirements for the Property were not met, and that certain ADA requirements for the Property were not satisfied because of the lack of handicapped-accessible parking and the steepness of handicapped-accessible ramp. (Id. ¶ 46.)

         In its inspection report of August 4, 2013, the City housing department noted several items that still needed to be completed, and under the “Other Comments” section, the housing department calculated available parking for the Property, which the City contends was done in a manner that was inconsistent with the Zoning Code. (Id. ¶ 47.) The Church challenges the statement that the Building Department calculated available parking for the Property in a manner that was inconsistent with the Zoning Code because it was not seeking to “erect” or “enlarge” “any main building or structure.” (Id.)

         The reports having been received from the City's building and fire departments and from the City's civil engineering consulting firm, the Church's conditional use application went back before the Plan Commission on August 14, 2013, at which time the Plan Commission considered the written reports and held a continued hearing. (Id. ΒΆ 48.) The Church states that it was not furnished with a copy of the report from the engineering ...

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