City of St. Michael staff, on behalf of the St. Michael City Council, posted a news release Tuesday, Dec. 2 regarding the decision to deny a zoning ordinance change allowing Riverside Church to purchase and uses the former Cinemagic Theater site as a “satellite” church.
In the statement, signed by Community Development Director Marc Weigle, the city said months of discussion, government process and even negotiations essentially came to a halt Tuesday, Nov. 25, prior to the city council meeting, when Riverside’s attorneys notified the city in writing that any future negotiating terms regarding the site were being pulled off the table.
As a result, the city council followed the planning and zoning commission’s recommendation and denied the zoning amendment request.
Here’s the statement, as written and posted to the City of St. Michael website:
Over the last several months the City considered a zoning amendment request by Riverside Church of Big Lake to allow assemblies, religious institutions and places of worship (“churches”) in the business zoning districts without any requirements for addressing impacts on traffic, parking or other site-specific factors such a use would generate. This would have enabled Riverside (or any other church) to operate a church in the former 15-screen theater building at I-94 and Highway 241, which is limited to one access. Riverside claims that a church and theater are similar uses and that, under the Federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), the City must treat them the same.
The City spent many months studying and carefully deliberating Riverside’s zoning amendment request, including updating a traffic study that was originally done prior to approving the theater in 2005. At the end of this process, the City Council determined that allowing churches in the business zoning districts – without consideration of traffic and other site-specific factors – would be detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the community. The Council further determined that a 15 screen multi-plex theater and church are not the same in several respects, including the way such uses generate traffic. Therefore the Council concluded that the zoning ordinance can regulate such uses differently.
Nevertheless, the City did attempt to reach an agreement that would have allowed Riverside to operate a church in the theater building under certain conditions that would address the traffic impacts the City’s traffic consultant determined would result from the operation of a church at the theater building site. This included a worship space limit of 1,200 people per service, which was the maximum number of people at one service the traffic engineers had determined would be safe, even after a traffic signal is in place at the Hwy. 241 and O’Day Ave. intersection. The City-proposed 1,200 person per service limit was 60% more than Riverside’s proposed 3-phase plan of 750 people per service.
However, despite several ideas and attempts from the City to resolve the traffic safety issues identified by the City’s traffic consultant, Riverside would not agree to an enforceable worship space limit. On Tuesday, November 25, 2014 Riverside notified the City in writing that it was “withdrawing from future negotiations.” As a result, the City Council denied the zoning amendment request.
There has been a lot of misunderstanding of Riverside’s zoning request. The City encourages people to review the official position of the City in the Findings of Fact and Decision, as well as past minutes and reports on the City’s website under Documents / Meetings & Minutes / City Council or Planning Commission. There is currently a moratorium on assemblies, churches and theaters while the City continues to study this issue further.
St. Michael is home to numerous churches of multiple denominations, and has room for many more. The City has an abundance of land zoned for assemblies, religious institutions and places of worship as permitted uses and Riverside is welcome to establish a church in any of those locations.
Contact: Marc Weigle
Community Development Director