Markham church alleges city officials improperly using zoning laws to cast it out of neighborhood

Dan Churney May 14, 2015, 3:47pm

A Markham church has claimed Markham city officials violated a number of laws, including the church's right to the exercise of religion, when they denied the church's request for a special use permit to operate a church in a residential area. City officials, in response, have moved to have the case handled in federal court, rather than in Cook County’s circuit courtrooms.

The Church of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ filed an amended complaint April 8 in Cook County Circuit Court against the city of Markham, alleging city officials violated the congregation’s rights under the Constitution’s First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Illinois Open Meetings Act and two sections of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The church also requested the court for an administrative review of the special use permit denial.

However, the city filed notice May 8 of its intent to remove the case to federal court in Chicago, asking that three of the counts be addressed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois because they involve the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

The case stems from February 2013, when the city sent a summons asking the church to close, allegedly because the church had incurred safety violations under local building codes and had never obtained a conditional use permit to open their church to the public.

Church officials argued they had never received any prior notice of any problems since the congregation was established and began holding worship services and other meetings in 2003 at 16018 S. Spaulding, Markham, which is in a district zoned by the family for single family dwellings.

A judge then ordered inspections of the property, and inspectors gave their approval. The church then applied for a conditional use permit, as the city’s zoning code permits churches to be in single family residential districts, with city approval.

The Markham Planning Board voted against the application April 10, 2013. But the church alleged the vote came without proper notice being given, which violated the church’s “due process” rights and violated the Open Meetings Act.

The church’s lawsuit alleges the planning board next tried to force the heads of the city’s building and fire departments to withdraw their approval of the application, but to no avail.

The application then went before the Markham City Council. The church alleges the council then “inappropriately” went into closed session at the meeting at which the application was considered, only to emerge and return the application to the planning board.

The church alleged a member of the planning board said she wanted the building inspectors to find a problem with the church and its application, and was unhappy when none was found. The planning board again refused to recommend the application, and the city council then denied the application, the complaint states.

The church asked a judge to review the matter and award compensatory and punitive damages, as well as costs and legal fees.

The church is represented by the Raymond Law Group, of Chicago.

The city of Markham is represented by Robbins, Schwartz, Nicholas, Lifton & Taylor, of Chicago.

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