Judge rules MN township must allow Islamic cemetery

A follow up to a story posted here in November: A Dakota County District Court Judge has ordered Castle Rock Township to issue a conditional use permit for an Islamic cemetery.

Agstar Financial Services submitted an application to the township in March 2014 for a proposed Islamic cemetery and funeral home on property it owned.  In June 2014, Castle Rock Township’s planning commission recommended the approval of the application without the plan to build a funeral home on the property; however, the Castle Rock Township board rejected the application in August 2014, expressing concerns of potential loss of a “lot of tax base” and that the property “would not be open to the public for burials.”

When Al Maghfirah Cemetery Association closed on the sale of the property with Agstar, it submitted its own conditional use permit to the township on Nov. 17, 2014, and agreed not to build a funeral home on the property, but three days later, the board of Castle Rock Township denied Al Maghfirah Cemetery Association’s application.

The Dakota County District Court Judge wrote that he wrote that Al Maghfirah Cemetery Association “is entitled to free use of its property, subject to reasonable zoning restrictions….That right was denied to them by the arbitrary decision of the Castle Rock Township Board of Supervisors, which was later framed as a concern over the loss of tax base.”

The full Minnesota Public Radio article is here

News from around Minnesota: Islamic group alleges RLUIPA violation in denial of conditional use permit for cemetery

Castle Rock Township, in Dakota County Minnesota (a portion of St. Paul, and south) rejected an application submitted by the original property owner, and a subsequent owner, for a proposed Islamic cemetery to be located in the Township. The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) has asked the US Department of Justice to investigate whether the township acted with an anti-Muslim bias in rejecting the application; specifically, whether the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) was violated when the Castle Rock Township Board rejected the application for a conditional use permit after the Planning Commission had recommended that the board approve it. At the time the application was filed cemeteries were allowed as conditional uses in the zoning district where the land is located. After the denial, however, the Castle Rock Township Board changed the zoning ordinance so that cemeteries were no longer a permissible use in that district.  More on the story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune here.

News from around Minnesota: St. Cloud MN rezones land for solar garden

The St. Cloud City Council recently voted to rezone land to create a place for a solar garden.  Solar gardens are essentially tracts of land on which solar panels are built. The panels are then connected to the power grid. Garden “subscribers” buy into the project and receive a credit on their electric bill.

Minnesota passed a law in 2013 that requires utilities to get at least 1.5 percent of their electricity from solar by 2020.  The law has put Minnesota on the front lines of solar garden development nationwide.

A good article on solar gardens and the zoning issues associated with them is here.

News from Minnesota: Minneapolis suburb settles RLUIPA suit

The US Justice Department and the city of St. Anthony, Minnesota have settled a RLUIPA lawsuit stemming from the denial of a conditional use permit to establish a mosque.  A group of Somali immigrants formed the Abu Huraira Islamic Center in 2009 in hopes of establishing a worship center in St. Anthony.  In June 2012, the St. Anthony City Council voted 4 to 1 to deny the conditional use permit for the Islamic center, despite a recommendation by the St. Anthony Planning Commission to approve the project. At the council meeting, several St. Anthony citizens voiced their objections to the Islamic center in a way that, Islamic center proponents asserted, clearly exposed the real reason for the delay and ultimate rejection.  The residents’ comments included: “There is no other religion in the world that condones violence. Islam is evil,” and, “Where did you come from? [Go] change your own country.”

According to Fox News 9 in the Twin Cities the terms of the settlement agreement include:

– The permit will allow Abu-Huraira to use the St. Anthony Business Center for religious worship.

– St. Anthony Village will not treat Abu-Huraira or any other religious groups in a discriminatory manner through the application of its zoning laws.

– Elected leaders, city managers and certain city employees will participate in educational training about requirements of RLUIPA.

– St. Anthony Village will make RLUIPA information available to the public through its website and will report periodically to the Justice Department.

The dispute was originally discussed in our blogpost here.

News from around Minnesota: Is a septic system a modern day convenience?

A southeast Minnesota Amish couple faces a third misdemeanor charge for allegedly building a home without a permit.  They say a county ordinance that requires the installation of a septic system violates their religious beliefs.  But earlier this year, Fillmore County zoning officials cited the couple for building a house without a permit. They entered a not guilty plea a few months ago.

The legal issue involves county regulations as of December 2013 requiring a septic system for new homes. According to the couple, such a system is considered a modern day convenience that goes against Amish beliefs and lifestyle.  A second Amish couple was also in court  facing similar charges for building without a permit.

The full story from Minnesota Public Radio is here.

News from around Minnesota: Justice department sues Minneapolis suburb over denial of permit for mosque

The Justice Department is suing the city of St. Anthony, Minnesota for denying a request for a permit to establish a mosque.  The U.S. Attorney contends that the city council applied its zoning laws unevenly, and the federal government is seeking an injunction (presumably under RLUIPA).

A group of Somali immigrants formed the Abu Huraira Islamic Center in 2009 in hopes of establishing a worship center.  After years of trying to find a suitable location, the group bought a building in an area zoned light industrial.  The group applied for a conditional use permit, which was rejected by the city council after a crowded, contentious public meeting.  St. Anthony previously approved a conditional use permit for the Operating Engineers Union Local 49, which is also located in a light industrial zone, allowing the union to rent out its banquet hall to other groups. The US Attorney asserts that the meetings at the union hall constitute assemblies, and that RLUIPA prohibits cities from treating religious meetings differently than secular assemblies.

The USA Today article is here.

News from around Minnesota: Brainerd OKs small homes

Following up with the latest news on my May 13 post, the Brainerd city council has given the green light to 500 square foot homes on lots that would otherwise be unbuildable under current zoning regulations.  The original plan recommended by the planning commission called for houses as small as 400 square feet. Bumping the limit up to 500 square feet now gives Brainerd the same minimum house size as Minneapolis, where houses can be as small as 500 square feet and 350-square-foot efficiency apartments are legal.

According to the article: “Tiny home builders would also have to secure a special permit from the city.”  Does this mean that average-sized contractors – probably 5’10” or so –  can operate as-of-right? Isn’t that discriminatory?

News from around Minnesota: Brainerd debates small houses

Brainerd, Minnesota is considering a relaxation of the zoning code to allow houses as small as 400 square feet, according to this article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  The current minimum house size is 750 square feet.  The usual pros (less expensive to buy and maintain; a way to utilize undersized lots in old part of town) and cons (property values; looks like a doll house) are being discussed by the city council.

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