Public hearing set for Churches in commercial zones

MONTE VISTA - At the last Monte Vista City Council meeting Ordinance 907 was scheduled to have its second reading. There was a great deal of community input about the matter at the last City Council meeting. The Ordinance would remove the special review use designation for religious institutes in  commercial highway and commercial business zones. Its first reading was passed by council two to three at the last council meeting.

Raina Bowsher who co-owns a business at 157 Adams shared some of her thoughts about the Ordinance with the Council saying, “I stated in previous council meetings that I am here to speak against allowing a church in the downtown retail business area. However, I do believe that Ordinance 907 as it was originally written was a bit too broad. My vision and I believe others’ vision for the district for the downtown is centered more around about three blocks of Adams street. Several blocks of first avenue and a couple blocks of Broadway, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. And also, Jackson street. There are locations for your consideration in the commercial highway district to the east and to the south and to the north that would be a very appropriate place for a church.”

Bowsher sharing one of them being the old coop building across from Loves. She also said that there are locations on the north and south sides of the Gun Barrel road that might also serve a church well. Bowsher said she wanted to encourage the council to envision what it would be like to have a thriving downtown area. “Let’s not settle for anything less than what we envision. Then what we want our town to be. If we are to develop business growth in our downtown community for our commercial business district, we have to ensure it remains business oriented,” said Bowsher.

Bowsher also shared that there were many people who came forward to voice their concern about the downtown area. Some also signing a petition. “Remember we have zoning regulations in place for a reason to protect and grow our business community as a whole. In a responsible manner. Those funds generated by sales tax revenue depend a lot on what the rest of our community looks like visually. Both the citizens and the planning and zoning committee have voiced their concerns in a very firm manner. This issue has never been about Mr. Foster’s character. This issue has never been about stopping the freedom to worship. This is simply not about filling an empty building just to have it filled. As you vote tonight, I urge you to vote to move a step closer to a thriving downtown retail district,” said Bowsher.

Margo Alexander also shared her thoughts with the council sharing that many of the established churches in the community are in commercial areas. She also asked what will allow businesses in the downtown area that are not retail the ability to stay in those zones. “I would like the council to really investigate, and research. There’s a non-conforming use clause. Check out RLUIPA which is religious land use and institutionalized person act of 2000. There’s just issues I wish you all would consider and look at before you make your final decision. Because once you go down this path and this is removed from the Ordinance- what are you going to do if somebody wants to do something and we have no way to implement it?” asked Alexander.

Kathy Lorenz also voiced her thoughts asking the council, “If this same amendment or proposal had come forward and it had been in regard to the display of an American flag in exactly the same zoning areas following exactly the same standards that were brought forward at the last meeting would it really have been a three to two vote? That really concerns me. Because when I went back and looked at the tape I went back and reviewed everything there was no legal guidance provided to city council during the meeting regarding the broad spectrum of this proposal. That is what we have a city attorney for.

Nothing was said. There were no pros there were no cons,” Lorenz adding, “What happens if one of the grandfathered churches closes and then eventually wants to reopen? There was really no thought given to it. And it passed on a three to two vote. What if it was one of our other First Amendment rights? Would the council have been so quick to pass that? To pass the proposal on first reading in a three to two votes.”

Lorenz shared that she felt concerned about what she felt was not enough thought given saying, “I think more thought needs to be given to some of these things. Because we don’t want to end up like Nazi Germany did just because people were willing to blindly go along.”

The City’s Attorney Mike Trujillo suggested that the council should hold a public hearing about the manner saying, “I do think a public hearing would probably be appropriate for actually deciding on the ordinance. In a small town you get a lot of rumors and information and you don’t know where and what folks really think is going on,” Trujillo further stating, “Maybe set it for a public hearing and get a lot of folks to come in and make their comments as to what they think should happen here. Then the council can make a more informed decision.”

Some discussion followed and Raina Bowsher suggested that they may be able to make a change to the ordinance to make existing churches exempt saying, “That once they’re a church they would always be a church. And it would be allowed to be a church regardless of their circumstances during hard times. Maybe that would be one change you would like to put in your ordinance.”

After discussion it was moved by Councilor Martha Lock that they table the matter until they would be able to hold a public hearing on Feb. 18, 2021. It was seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Victor Sigala. It passed three to two. Councilor Lock voting yes, Mayor Pro Tem Sigala voting yes, and Mayor Becker voting yes. Councilor Johnson and Councilor Foster voted no.


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