Lawsuits by their very nature are unpleasant, especially when they a unit of municipal government and a long-standing member of the local faith community.
Litigation between the and the has been ongoing for the better part of four years and created unfortunate tensions between the parties.
Legal costs, for both sides, have soared, and time and energy spent on addressing the matter are incalculable.
While implementing standard operating procedure and not admitting liability, the Wayzata City Council toward resolving the dispute and finally ending the costly lawsuit.
A settlement agreement unanimously approved by the council gives the church almost everything it has been asking for all along. In addition to a $500,000 cash payment (plus legal fees and other expenses), the church is cleared to build its new church at the location requested and lays out a timely path for ground breaking.
The agreement was drafted by a magistrate judge and requires the church to complete many of the same steps any public or private entity must satisfy as part of property redevelopment.
These steps include submission of a Planned Unit Development application, rezoning and Comprehensive Plan amendment to allow for the construction of a new church, planning and construction plans, site plan review, design review and final state application.
Additionally, the church must receive formal permission from the city before selling land currently owned by the church—which the city has informally signaled it would promptly approve.
Yes, approval of the draft settlement was unscheduled, and learning of the action from a local reported appeared to catch the church off guard.
In fact, an attorney representing the church told Patch in a July 5 e-mail that the church needed “more information to help determine if UUCM is able to comment at this time” and requested “more information regarding what your story will be discussing.”
Now the church wants to reopen a wound that had begun to heal, setting in motion yet another round of court proceedings that undoubtedly will result in additional legal costs and further drag out what has become a very public legal drama.
A lawyer representing the church told the Lakeshore Weekly News this week that the church has “no choice” but to re-open its suit against the city, telling the newspaper that it would ask a judge to rule on the “important constitutional issues before it” which center around the church’s claim of infringement on its constitutional right to worship
Further, the church appears to take issue with a clause stating the two parties will release each other of all future claims related to the lawsuit—standard language in most such settlements.
Reality is that the church will likely be on the winning side of those arguments, but terms of any settlement issued from the bench are unlikely to further sweeten the church’s deal.
In the interests of the church, city and community at large, the time has come to end this lawsuit and begin repairing what was once a strong partnership between local government and a respected institution of faith.