Pueblo Christian Growth Center wants exemption to sue RV ministry


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After hearing passionate pleadings from representatives of the Christian Growth Center on November 24, the City of Pueblo’s Zoning Appeal Board chose to take the time to consider whether or not to enforce a municipal code violation against which the church is fighting against.

The problem is the church’s regular practice of providing a motorhome and utility hookup for traveling ministers. The RV site is located in the church parking lot at 1906 N. Hudson Ave. in East Pueblo.

This is part of the Bible-based Pentecostal Church’s hospitality ministry that has been provided to traveling evangelists for more than 30 years, said Andrew Nussbaum, a Denver lawyer representing the church.

The problem from the city’s perspective is that the use of “large-scale RVs is not permitted in the Zone B-3 district in which this property is located,” said Scott Hobson, manager by interim planning and community development. Hobson said the church received a notice of violation of the Pueblo municipal code on May 18.

The church appealed the notice of violation on September 30, claiming that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, known by its acronym RLUIPA, gives the church power under the law. federal government to regularly provide a recreational vehicle to departmental guests.

The part of the law that applies, Nussbaum said, reads: “No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a way that imposes a substantial burden on the exercise. religious of a person, including a religious assembly or institution. ”

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Lawyer argues federal law exempts church

“It seems to be a bit unusual for this board. The church’s call to this council is simple, ”Nussbaum said, saying federal law exempts religious institutions from otherwise applicable municipal codes.

Use of the only motorhome mat is provided for “traveling evangelists and those related to the church who have been through difficult times. This easily fits RULIPA’s definition of religious exercise, ”he said.

“The way the church worships God revolves around traveling evangelists who preach revivals to their faithful. So offering hospitality to these evangelists in the form of RV hospitality ministry is a basic religious exercise, ”Nussbaum said.

“The city’s attempt to ban this ministry by enforcing its ordinance on recreational vehicles is therefore an obvious burden,” under the law, he argued. The itinerant ministry is “particularly important for Pentecostalism.”

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“RV hospitality ministry is absolutely essential to the religious exercise of the church. If the municipal ordinance significantly restricts or inhibits religious exercise, then RULIPA prevails over the ordinance as it applies to the church, ”Nussbaum said.

He said the city ordinance goes beyond coercion and “bans the ministry from accommodating motorhomes.” He argued that the city should show “a specific and compelling interest in enforcing the ordinance in the church here.”

He said the church has been providing RV parking for over 30 years, first at its 2901 Oneal Ave location. and currently at the Hudson Avenue location where the church moved in 2011. The Motorhome Ordinance has been in effect in Pueblo since the 1950s.

The connection to the motorhome has been authorized by the regional building service

Reverend Paul Elder said the connection to the church motorhome was licensed, inspected and approved by the Pueblo Regional Building Department.

“When the notice of violation came to me, I was in shock,” he said.

Pueblo Church welcomes 10 to 15 out-of-state preachers each year and “almost all of them live full time in their RVs. This is their home, ”he said.

“A group of itinerant pastors travel from church to church, town to town, spreading the gospel and preaching revivals. Itinerant evangelists are the cornerstone of our church, ”Elder explained.

The pay is not substantial and “the travel costs are astronomical at the price of gasoline today,” he said. It is therefore “essential to provide connections to itinerant pastors”, especially when RV parks charge up to $ 85 a night.

“Our church would suffer greatly if the RV hospitality program ceased. It would radically change the way we pray, ”Elder said.

Associate Pastor Paul Hicks explained how the church and the city worked together on other issues such as building the church as well as when the church was granted a waiver to allow its school.

Carol Lee said that when her husband, the late David Lee, worked as a traveling evangelist, “we relied heavily on RV ministries.” She estimated that 380 of the 400 churches they visited had VR ministries and said that when her husband’s health deteriorated, the couple used the Christian Growth Center’s VR ministry and “it hurt us. given a place to live in our most difficult times “.

Zoning Appeal Board chairman Mike Castellucci has called for an executive session to seek advice from city attorney Dan Kogovsek.

“This is a complicated case,” Kogovsek said, urging the board to take the matter under advisement after the executive session and then deliver a written decision at its December 28 meeting.

The five-member board of directors voted unanimously to follow this advice.

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Chief Journalist Tracy Harmon covers business news. She can be reached by email at tharmon@chieftain.com or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.


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