Christian Fellowship Center will again lobby for property use variance at Monday meeting
Sunday, February 10, 2019 - 5:25 pm

CANTON – The Christian Fellowship Center will again appear before the village planning board Monday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. to once more lobby for a permit to use the property at 25 Court Street as a church.

The CFC is requesting a special exception to the zoning restrictions to use the lot as a church.

The planning board is to consider the special exception as a conceptual review and cannot yield a binding result, said planning board chairman Barry Walch in an email Friday.

In a related matter, the village Zoning Board of Appeals is considering the CFCs request for a reinterpretation of Code Enforcement Officer Jeffrey Murray’s recent denial of the organization’s bid to use the space for a professional office.

The CFC purchased the property at the beginning of January from previous owners Custmo Inc. for $310,000 after a long-standing purchase offer was accepted. The lot, site of the former Club restaurant, is in the village’s C1 commercial zone, a small sector of Canton’s downtown business district which specifically does not allow churches or religious organizations under zoning law. The church purchased the property prior to securing a use permit of any kind for the building and the lot.

The ZBA previously upheld an earlier denial by Murray preventing the church from using the lot to house their Canton congregation there. The church at that time was asking to be considered a fraternal or philanthropic organization which is allowed in the C1 zone.

The organization also appealed to the ZBA and the planning board previously citing the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which prevents discrimination against religious organizations in certain instances. The ZBA has ruled that the church is not being treated as less than equal to individuals, businesses or organizations who would also be asked to comply with the law, and that the church was not being presented with any undue hardship by being denied a use permit for the lot because of established zoning laws.

One of the main concerns by downtown business owners and residents who oppose the church taking up residence at the 25 Court St. lot deals with state alcohol licenses. If the church were to occupy the building, conduct business or run services there, several properties, housing multiple units, in the village’s downtown business district along Court Street and possibly off Prentice Avenue, would be limited in the types of operations allowed under the state’s 200-foot alcohol setback rule.

The rule prevents any establishment sitting within 200 feet of the doors of a church, on the same street, from obtaining a new liquor license. So any new restaurant, eatery, microbrew pub, café or bistro serving wine would be prevented from operating with a liquor license in the village’s concentrated downtown commercial zone if they fall within the 200-foot, same street, boundary.

The village does allow churches in several other zones which comprise the majority of the available downtown business acreage.

CFC leadership has said they would continue to research other options to be able to use the property, including legal recourse.