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Hole in the Roof Ministry Center vs. City of St. Louis

 

"For a dream . . .

comes with much business and painful effort." Ecclesiates 5:3.

All we wanted to do was open a small, store front church and minister to our community. What we found ourselves in was a huge legal battle with our local aldermen and the City of St. Louis. Everything seemed fine when we applied for our building/occupancy permit for a storefront location on Gravois Avenue. We were informed by the Business Assistance Center at city hall that we needed to contact the alderman for that area and the neighborhood association. That is when the war erupted. We were informed by the neighborhood association, Bevo 2001, that a redevelopment plan was in the works for the Gravois Business Area that would prohibit storefront churches and "other undesirables". We were in shock. I do not know about you, but the last time I studied the U.S. Constitution, it was illegal to ban churches. We contacted our church attorney, Robert Arb, and he advised us that we had every right to be there and to continue to press forward with opening our church.

We went before the Zoning Commissioner and were turned down for our occupancy permit because we did not have enough off street parking. So, we set up an appeal with the Board of Public Service and went on the hunt for additional off street parking. For a building our size, we needed 10 off street parking splaces. We were able to secure 21 parking spaces. We also prayed and asked God to intervene in this situation. Two weeks before our hearing, President Bill Clinton signed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), which made it a federal law that municipalities could not zone out churches from any zoning district. Feeling very confident with the new federal law and the 21 parking spaces, we went before the Board of Public Service. You can imagine our shock when we were turned down, not for lack of off street parking, but because we were "not compatible with, nor did we compliment, the surrounding uses". When our attorney, Robert Arb, presented the Board with the RLUIPA law, he was told "This does not apply to us". We left the Board of Public Service hearing knowing we were headed for court.

With the RLUIPA law in hand, Robert Arb filed suit on our behalf in the St. Louis Circuit Court asking the Court to overturn the Board of Public Service's decision. On April 30, 2001, Judge Robert H. Dierker, Jr. ruled that the Board's decision was "illegal, unsupported by copetent and substantial evidence on the whole record, and a patent abuse of discretion." Judge Dierker then ordered the Board of Public Service to issue us our occupancy permit. Unfortunately, during the long wait for a decision, we lost the lease for the property on Gravois Avenue. Despite the ruling from the Circuit Court, the Board of Public Service and the City of St. Louis refused to change their redevelopment plans to ban store front churches. After much prayer and consideration, we had our attorney file suit in Federal Court on August 23, 2001, asking the court to challenge the City's redevelopment plan using the new RLUIPA law. On September 24, 2001, a settlement agreement was approved by Federal Judge Rodney Sippel between Hole in the Roof Ministry Center and the City of St. Louis that stated that churches were indeed allowed in any zoning district and could not be banned. This major victory helps not only us here at Hole in the Roof Ministry Center, but all churches in the State of Missouri. Now, we can minister as we wanted to here in the South St. Louis area. God has been faithful to our diligence to fight for what was right and in answer to our prayers. Praise God! HE IS FAITHFUL!

 

 

 

 
 
 

 
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