The City of St. Michael, Minnesota, after several months of negotiations, has denied Riverside Church’s application to modify the City’s General Business Zoning District (“GBD”).  The zoning amendment would have allowed Riverside to locate a “satellite campus” to a former, 15-screen Cinemagic Theater located in the GBD with access to Highway 241. Although it is currently unknown whether Riverside will file an action against the City, Riverside’s attorney has stated that denial of the application would violate RLUIPA.

In November, 2014 the City Planning Commission and City Council considered Riverside’s application to allow Assemblies, Religious Institutions and Places of Worship in the GBD by right if the following conditions were met:

  • The applicant submitted for site plan review;
  • Minimum lot size of three acres;
  • Thirty foot side and rear setbacks;
  • Located on a collector or minor arterial road;
  • “Adequate” on-site parking;
  • Screening from Residential uses;
  • The use is located in a building “designed for public gatherings;”
  • The site is served by sewer and water; and
  • No more property is required than is necessary to accommodate the religious use and associated parking.

 

According to local reports, the City and Riverside had been in discussions regarding the Cinemagic property since April, 2014.  On November 19, the City provided Riverside with a Draft Site Plan Agreement that would have allowed Riverside’s proposed place of worship, subject to several conditions, including: that the facility is limited to 1,200 seats; Riverside provide traffic mitigation measures at the intersection with State Highway 241; and Riverside make bi-annual tax increment financing (“TIF”) payments to the St. Michael Business Center, LLC  (“SMBC”), in accordance with the 1998 TIF Agreement between the City and SMBC. 

On November 25, Riverside’s Senior Pastor sent a letter to the City stating that it was withdrawing from all future negotiation.  (see letter at page 84, here) According to Riverside, the City’s proposed settlement “is a fundamental violation of Riverside’s constitutional and statutory rights….” 

In response to Riverside’s letter, the City issued a Finding of Facts and Decision, denying Riverside’s application.  According to the Decision and a statement issued by the City, the City had worked in good faith to reach an agreement with Riverside.  However, according to the City, Riverside would not agree to an enforceable, 1,200-person per service limit, which was a sticking point for the City.

The City has urged all interested parties to review the complete record of negotiations between the City and Riverside.  The record of all communications is available here.