So, with a pending purchase agreement in place and now a Conditional Use Permit from the City of St. Michael, what happens with Riverside’s pursuit of the theater?
North Wright County Today attempts to clear the air with this quick “Q&A.”
So, Riverside Church sued the city and won. Why did they do that?
Riverside Church – which wants to use the theater as a “satellite campus” to simulcast church services sued because of the city’s decision to reject a zoning ordinance amendment that requested St. Michael allow churches in this particular commercially zoned area. The request was officially made by the church in May/June 2014, and the process started with the St. Michael Planning Commission a couple of months later. The planning commission voted, unanimously, not to change the ordinance the states churches must be built in residential areas, and the St. Michael City Council upheld that recommendation after its own series of negotiations with the church failed. But a lawsuit in federal court went to a settlement conference, and judge outlined terms for the city and Riverside to clear the way for the church.
What grounds does the church believe it had to sue the city over that decision?
Riverside was pointing to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which was put in place by Congress under the Clinton Administration. That law was targeted, mainly, to property owners who weren’t allowing certain religious groups to rent space within commercial buildings, such as strip malls and empty commercial buildings, such as former theaters. Its main purpose was to head off religious discrimination. In this case, the church believes the city was discriminatory only allowing a church in a residential area.
Isn’t the theater re-opening soon as a theater? What’s up with the St. Michael Cinema?
Not now. With the news that the request for a zoning ordinance amendment request by Riverside had failed, the current owners decided early in 2015 to begin promoting the theater’s re-opening as a theater. Over the last several weeks, improvements have been made inside the building, including lighting, masonry and flooring.
However, the ownership said last month, asking for privacy, that they would abide by the Minneapolis Federal Court decision if and when that happens. With the theater now destined to be a church, Cinemasota will most likely complete the sale and hand the property over to Riverside. The ownership group said it would honor the terms of a purchase agreement put in place, similar to the negotiated agreement it had with Riverside nearly a year ago, and the theater would be sold to the church for their use.
So, no theater?
Nope. (Unless Riverside opens one.)
So what if the court rules in Riverside’s favor?
The ownership group said it would honor the terms of a purchase agreement put in place, similar to the negotiated agreement it had with Riverside nearly a year ago, and the theater would be sold to the church for their use.
Can the City do anything more?
Nope. It’s pretty much out of their hands now that the courts have handed down this decision. The city was forced to abide by the terms of the settlement agreement put in place by the magistrate judge. That said, some council member and planning commissioners said they’d be “comfortable” with a church in the location IF they could put conditions on the zoning. This ruling allowed them to put those conditions in place when the church’s attorneys were fighting against that. So, there was compromise within the settlement.
What did the lawsuit say?
Well, you can read a PDF here, which is about 26 pages long. They were filed Monday, March 24 in Minneapolis. Gray, Plant and Mooty is representing the church. George Hoff of the League of Minnesota Cities is representing the City of St. Michael.
Here’s the document: