A Jury to Decide Damages after City Changed Laws to Keep Church Out

A jury will decide the extent of damages done to the church Christian Assembly Rios de Agua Viva which was illegally burdened after the City of Burbank changed its laws to prevent the church from moving onto property it was set to purchase at 8100 South Parkside Avenue back in September 2010. Because the property was located in a commercial district, Burbank required the church to obtain a special use permit in order to use the property for religious purposes. But as the church was attempting to get its permit, the city shrewdly amended its law to prohibit non-tax generating groups from moving into “C” commercial districts.

Christian Assembly Rios de Agua Viva was originally looking for a new home to support the church’s growth. It had plans to renovate the property at 8100 S. Parkside avenue to accommodate 428 seats in a sanctuary, expand its youth outreach, and offer more classes. Due to the unlikelihood of the city ever granting the special use permit, the church eventually purchased a property in Oak Lawn in November 2015.

At the same time that the city was considering the church’s special use permit in November 2010, it was working surreptitiously to amend the prior ordinance to require the commercial district property uses to be tax-generating, which in effect, would prevent the church from moving to the property because of its tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization.

In December 2010 the church filed a lawsuit in federal court against Burbank after seeing the proposed amendment the city was sneaking through in a newspaper notice. The lawsuit was based on Burbank’s special use permit requirement, stating it was a violation of RLUIPA and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; the prior ordinance permitted nonreligious assemblies, such as theaters, but not religious assemblies in the commercial district without that special use permit. After the case moved back and forth from federal to state and back to federal court, the city council denied the church’s special use permit. In February 2017 Federal Judge Sara L. Ellis entered a summary judgement for liability against Burbank and in favor of the church and a jury will determine the amount of damages inflicted on the church.

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