Churches win a battle in Palm Beach County.
Some good news out of our County Commission for a change.
WEST PALM BEACH — In sharp contrast to earlier fervor-filled hearings, Palm Beach County commissioners quietly voted 4-1 Thursday to remove a clause that would have limited the size of new churches.
The proposed cap would have limited the number of seats and square footage to as little as 250 seats and 25,000 square feet in rural neighborhoods; 500 seats and 50,000 square feet in moderately dense areas; and 750 seats and 75,000 square feet in more urban settings. Houses of worship in commercial zones would not have been restricted.
I don't know whether it was a case of NIMBY(Not in my back yard) or the secularization of society that drove the people behind these proposed caps. Whatever the motive was, their illogic is just extroadinary.
First of all, churches have little activity other than days of worship. Yes there are other events at a church but none on the scale of weekly church service. So what we're talking about is 52 days out of the year and another 10-20 special days on a church calendar.
Traffic problems? My wife works for our local Catholic Church. The parrish pays for the local police to direct traffic after Mass on Saturdays, Sundays and Holy Days of obligation.
Another thing is the size of the caps that were being considered. Our church at full capacity seats about 1,000 people. There is nothing mega about the church dear wife and I attend. The only days the church reaches capacity is Easter, Christmas and maybe Palm Sunday and Ash Wednesday. You know those ECPSAW Catholics as the wife refers to them. The rest of the time, average amount of people at service is about 500. Being in Florida we have many seasonal residents.
A dumb law was averted. It wouldn't surprise me if another attempt is made to pass some kind of cap. The rest of the Post article is below.
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Congregations that had bought land to expand their campuses but had not yet begun construction would have been affected by the change.
When the proposals were announced, pastors and church members fervently voiced their objections at public forums and through letters and e-mails to commissioners. They believed the size rules would have discriminated against houses of worship and violated their First Amendment rights.
After the vote, Calvin Lyerla, senior pastor of Acts 2 Worship Center near Loxahatchee, was delighted to hear that the size limits had been dropped. He attributed the commission vote to the presence of 40 to 50 ministers at a recent zoning meeting.
"We have plans in zoning now that would have been completely stopped," said Lyerla, referring to a 600-seat, 9,000-square-foot building in an unincorporated western community.
"Our voice was very clear and unified," he said. "I was pleased that we communicated to them that it was an overreach."
Opponents of church growth were less sanguine about the vote.
"It's unfortunate that churches can't abide by the same rules that anybody else has to abide by," said Susan Kennedy, president of the Jupiter Farms Environmental Council, which advocated for the size limits. "That's all were asking for. You wouldn't want a super Wal-Mart or a giant-sized church placed in a small residential community."
County Zoning Director Jon MacGillis said Thursday that he doubted the proposed changes would have treated churches any differently than commercial and other enterprises.
Lawyers for two religious watchdog groups said the proposals may have violated the First Amendment right of religious expression, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 and the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1998. The federal and state laws seek to protect churches from unequal treatment by municipal governments.
By early this month, zoning department staff members offered commissioners three options: Study the matter for a year before deciding, accept the proposed changes or drop them. In the end, commissioners dropped them, but they retained an amendment that there be one parking space for every three seats or 200 square feet, whichever is greater.
One of the few to comment at Thursday's meeting was Bishop Avis Hill, who has had a long-running conflict with the commission over the use of his church, Westgate Tabernacle in suburban West Palm Beach, as a homeless shelter.
"It seems this county is somewhat hostile toward the religious community, from the guttermost to the uttermost," Hill said. "You realize that there is a sizable number of religious establishments in this county, and you are upsetting them very much."
Commissioner Jeff Koons jokingly asked Hill whether the commission would be able to "get right with God" if it voted down the cap.
During commissioners' comments before the vote, they pointedly signaled their appreciation for the county's houses of worship and their considerable flocks.
Commissioner Karen Marcus reminded her colleagues that county code covering churches had not been reviewed since the relatively recent genesis of churches that offer a variety of services seven days a week, not just on Sundays.
Commissioner Addie Greene cast the dissenting vote. She said she wanted to make it clear that her district was made up of municipalities and that they, not she, controlled the growth and number of churches.
"One thing I don't do is debate religion," she said.