Earlier this year, we reported on the dismissal of Michigan Islamic Academy’s (“MIA”) RLUIPA suit against Pittsfield Charter Township. According to the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, MIA did not have a sufficient property interest to maintain its RLUIPA claims because it never acquired a legally cognizable property interest in accordance with Michigan law.
This controversy began after MIA sought to develop a religious school on 26 acres of undeveloped land (the “Property”) zoned as a residential planned unit development (“PUD”). According to the DOJ’s complaint, the Property was transferred to MIA for $1 on May 30, 2015 (approximately two months after MIA’s suit was dismissed because it lacked a legal interest in the Property).
MIA’s current facility in Ann Arbor provides Islamic religious education to 190 students in grades pre-K to 12. The DOJ’s complaint explains that MIA’s current facilities are inadequate and MIA has been forced to utilize trailers for additional classroom space, and such trailers have had reoccurring issues with mold and no reliable heat.
To further its desired development in the residential PUD zone, MIA was required to submit a petition for a zoning amendment. After a lengthy hearing process and several reiterations of MIA’s plans to address concerns of the Township, the Planning Commission voted to recommend denial of the application. According to the complaint, at least one member of the Commission lives in a neighborhood next to the Property and actively organized residents to oppose the MIA development. The Township’s Board of Trustees later unanimously voted to deny MIA’s application without discussion.
The DOJ’s complaint states that the recommended denial was without a factual basis and contrary to the evidence presented in the hearing process. Denial of the application, according to the DOJ, imposes a substantial burden on MIA. The DOJ’s complaint is available here.