Dec 3, 2012
The City-County Council on Monday night overturned a zoning decision that would have allowed construction of a Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall in a Northwestside neighborhood.
In a rare move, council member Jose Evans, a Democrat who represents District 1, had called for a full hearing on a land rezoning case that the Metropolitan Development Commission previously approved. Those decisions usually are upheld by the council without discussion.
But plans for construction of a 6,000-square-foot church building for three Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations at 8851 Colby Blvd. had attracted wide opposition from College Park neighbors. In five years, another building would have been built on the 5.8-acre site.
The council overturned the decision 19-8. The motion needed an 18-vote supermajority to succeed.
For about two hours in the packed chamber in the City-County Building, the council heard opponents’ appeals to overturn the decision based on concerns about traffic, pedestrian safety and the loss of green space.
But many in the crowd were supportive of the church development, asking council members to uphold the decision.
David Shelton, an attorney for the College Park Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, charged that in an earlier meeting, some neighborhood opponents expressed animus against the project based on religion.
Council member Jeff Miller, a Republican, responded to appeals to protect the congregations’ religious rights by saying: “What would Jesus do? Jesus would not hire a lawyer to tell a neighborhood that they need a church there.”
The vote crossed party lines, with all Republicans and six Democrats voting to overturn the zoning decision.
Shelton said after the vote that a federal lawsuit would be the only way to challenge the council’s decision. The congregations still were considering their next step.
Redistricting and more
A vote on the majority Democrats’ redistricting plan was among several delayed until the Dec. 17 meeting because two Democratic members were absent. Democrats — who usually hold a 16-13 edge — would have lacked the minimum 15 votes needed to pass proposals if votes fell along party lines.