Religious School Appeals Zoning Denial To U.S. Court Of Appeals

logo for Tree of Life schools

A Christian ministry that wanted to open a school in an office complex they owned, had their appeal heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit last week. They are suing the city of Upper Arlington, Ohio, under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act – which is a cousin to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The RLUIPA is used by religious groups to force cities to change zoning laws that conflict with the group’s religious agenda.

Last year, about this time, I posted about a Christian ministry, Tree of Life, who purchased the largest office complex in Upper Arlington. They wanted to run a private school on the site and the city denied their zoning change request several times. Tree of Life sued in federal court.

The city of Upper Arlington is a land locked suburb of Columbus Ohio. Because of a lack of room for expansion they have passed ordinances to protect their property tax base by controlling how property can be used. Tree of Life Christian Schools purchased a seven building office complex in 2010 and want to consolidate the private schools they run at the location. Schools are one of the land uses prohibited by the city. Tree of Life sued in federal court and a judge ruled that the religious school wasn’t discriminated against.

Judge Denies Religious School’s Request For Special Treatment

This isn’t a case where Tree of Life had their school established and the city changed the zoning preventing them from expanding or changing their building. Tree of Life bought the complex that had a no schools zoning law in place and they want special treatment no secular group or business would be allowed.

Since purchasing its 15.8-acre Upper Arlington property, Tree of Life’s attempts to gain exemptions for a private school at the site have been rejected three times by the Upper Arlington Board of Zoning and Planning.

City officials repeatedly have opposed the plan, saying the area includes the city’s largest office complex and is not zoned to permit schools.

The complex makes up 1.1 percent of the city’s total land and is zoned specifically for businesses that would generate substantial commercial tax revenue, city officials have said.

They also point to Upper Arlington’s master plan, which states that only 4.7 percent of the city’s total land is dedicated for retail and office uses and directs city officials to maintain or enhance the commercial land-use base.

Sixth Circuit hears Tree of Life appeal

The lawyer for Tree of Life, Erik Stanley, an attorney for Kansas-based Alliance Defending Freedom said:

“(Tree of Life) believes this site serves their purposes very well,” Stanley said. “They continue to believe there was a series of miraculous circumstances that allowed them to purchase this building. They truly believe God has led them to this building.”

One would think if that was true they wouldn’t need to file a lawsuit to get their way.


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