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Richfield UMC, town officials continue to discuss renovation of church’s kitchen

The two parties involved in discussions on the kitchen renovations planned by Richfield United Methodist Church continue to communicate with each other regarding the situation.

On Oct. 30, Richfield Mayor Terry Deese issued a statement regarding the situation (for related story, see: https://www.thesnaponline.com/2020/10/30/battle-continues-for-new-communit y-table-in-richfield/ ) which read as follows:

“Commissioners of the Town of Richfield work diligently to provide for and protect citizens of the town. The Town of Richfield must approve a zoning permit prior to the County issuing a building permit for any construction or alterations to any properties within the Town limits and the extra territorial area. Under the Town’s current zoning ordinance a church is permitted as CS (Conditional Use) within the 4-20 district, under certain conditions. Consideration must be given to all details of the proposed use in order for the Town to grant a conditional use permit. The Town appreciates all expressions of interest from its citizens.”

A letter sent last week to Deese, town council members and Town Administrator Carolyn Capps referred to a letter sent previously to town officials stating the church’s position regarding the situation.

The previous letter said the church “is a permitted use in a residential zone under the Town zoning ordinance” whose definition includes as a primary intention is “for conducting religious services and whose site may include an accessory area for the interment of the dead.”

Written by Richfield UMC lawyer S. Ellis Hankins, the letter said “few churches confine their activities to ‘conducting organized religious services,’” adding churches extend their ministries “outward to help and minister to needy people in the community.”

Hankins said in the letter the delay for the town’s issuing a permit to the church for the renovations “is based on opposition to the church’s planned Community Table initiative.”

He added members of the Richfield Town Council apparently believe the church “needs to seek rezoning.” Saying his firm represents 19 municipalities, Hankins said he would advise them “they have no adequate legal basis to hold up the issuance of a building permit for renovation of this existing facility” based on the facts of the case.

Additionally, Hankins said the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 passed by a bypartisan effort of the U.S. Congress states the government can not implement a land-use regulation “in a manner that imposes a substantial burden” on the religious exercise of a person or institution. The government can only impose a regulation if it can “demonstrate that imposition of the burden…is in furtherance of a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.”

The church is requesting the permit be issued without further delay, adding it has been “patient, but their patience is not exhausted. The continuing discussions appear to be nonproductive.”

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio was the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press from 1999-2001 and has currently served in the same capacity since 2008. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also been honored twice by the North Carolina Press Association.

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