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Town Considers Allowing Churches in Business Districts

RiverPark Community Church wants to operate in Goerkes Park Business Center, but town's zoning doesn't allow religious institutions in business districts.

Spurred by a church that wants to open in Goerkes Park Business Center, the Town of Brookfield Plan Commission on Tuesday endorsed adding churches as conditional uses in business districts.

RiverPark Community Church, which shares space in the at N4W22000 Blue Mound Road in Waukesha, wants to lease its own space in the Goerkes Park Business Center south of Watertown Road.

"It's just an excellent location," Pastor Jeff Stupar told commissioners.

He said the 9,798-square-foot space in the rear of the business park's 20711 building has been vacant for two years, so opening a non-profit church there would not be removing tax revenue. 

RiverPark wants to upgrade the space to accommodate its Sunday services which run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., as well as weeknight and Saturday morning meetings. Stupar, who started the non-denominational church about 10 years ago with his wife Jeri, said there are about 110 church members, with plans to grow by about 70 over the next three years.

Parking is sufficient, because the business park has a large lot which would be mostly empty on the weekends, given most office traffic occurs on weekdays, Stupar said.

In a March 3 letter to the town, Stupar noted that there is nowhere in the town for the church to locate, given its current zoning on where churches are allowed. He asked officials to read the Federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), that prohibits governments from using land-use regulations to block the exercise of religion. 

Town plan commissioners said they wanted to place limits on the operation of churches and other religious institutions in areas zoned for B-3 office and business, such as two-acre lot minimums and 100-foot offsets from residential sites.

Commissioner Mike Schmitt said any church's occupancy would be driven by the size of its lot and available parking spaces. He urged the town to make sure that parking from any church approved wouldn't overflow onto streets and into neighborhoods.

Schmitt said he has seen cases where business or religious traffic exceeded available on-site parking, prompting traffic on residential streets.  

Outdoor events would have to be specified and approved, Commissioner Gordon Gaeth said.

The Town Board could vote on adding the new zoning ordinances at its meeting Tuesday. It then would need to be approved by the Waukesha County Plan Commission and County Board, which could take at least 60 days. 

Then RiverPark could file an application to open in Goerkes, said Gary Lake, town zoning and building administrator. Lake told the church the town could not give it a temporary approval and the county must adopt the town's zoning change.

Jeff June 29, 2011 at 02:14 PM
The Pastor is a little off-base when he says "the building has been vacant for two years, so opening a non-profit church there would not be removing tax revenue" The Town collects tax revenue on the value of land and building regardless of whether its vacant or not. If the church leases the building the Town can still collect property taxes. If they buy it and operate a church they can become tax exempt.
J. Moriarty June 29, 2011 at 02:37 PM
The danger of such actions are that, if you look at what has been happening nationwide and causing legal chaos in numerous communities, the very definition of a church has changed thanks to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA). Thus, a church which wants to use a given building for religious services but it may also end up using the building as an unlicensed, unsupervised, group home for any given population, it may open a tax-free business (one church has a McDonald's in it's basement!), or it may use the building for whatever other "mission" they perceive as religious. Parking, health, safety, historic zoning, and more are not legally binding considerations because of RLUIPA. Under RLUIPA there are no limits and any church denied under this exceptional and preferential level of law WILL blackmail a community via RLUIPA's vague language until they get their way. RLUIPA is completely unconstitutional creating 2 separate levels of law - one religious/one secular - and it must be recinded by Congress or declared so by the Supreme Court.

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