BURBANK – Discriminating against a church cost the Chicago suburb of Burbank nearly half a million dollars, the church's legal representation Mauck & Baker reports.
In 2010, Christian Assembly Rios de Agua Viva, a mainly Hispanic church located in Chicago sought to accommodate its growing congregation by contracting to purchase the former Old Barn Restaurant at 8100 South Parkside, which had been vacant since 2008.
While Rios was under contract to purchase the property which was then zoned commercial, it applied for a special use permit to use the facility for worship. At the time, the zoning code required churches to obtain a special use permit in commercial zones, but permitted similar use by civil, social, fraternal and political organizations without city approval. While the Church’s special use permit was pending, Burbank city officials rushed through a zoning code amendment which prohibited churches at that location. Rios originally filed suit on Dec. 3, 2010. A few weeks later, the Church was forced to terminate the contract to purchase the property after the zoning code changed.
After years of litigation, parties were preparing to head to jury trial to receive a ruling on the issues of Burbank paying damages to Rios for its discriminatory treatment of the Church. The parties reached a settlement on January 8, 2018 on the eve of a damages trial. The Court had previously found that the City’s prior zoning ordinance violated the equal terms provision of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, and that the Church could recover damages on this specific claim.
Pursuant to the terms of the settlement finalized on May 30, 2018, the City agreed to pay the Church $459,801 in damages, attorneys’ fees and costs.
As for the Old Barn property, Burbank eventually constructed a power generator in the middle of the residential neighborhood. It is a shame Rios could not purchase the property but thankfully the Church in November 2015, purchased the former Oak Lawn Community Church located at 9000 S. Ridgeland Avenue where it continues to worship and serve the greater Hispanic community to this day.
Pastor Luis Ruiz said “we are pleased that we were able to settle this dispute. Our prayer is for Burbank to prosper in God’s ways and to never again engage in such hurtful discrimination.”