Castle Hills First Baptist Church v. City of Castle Hills
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Castle Hills First Baptist Church was a growing church in San Antonio, Texas that needed a new space to accommodate its 17,000 members. So in the late 1990s it acquired six residential lots for much needed additional parking.
Knowing that the church intended to use the lots for parking, the city allowed it to demolish and remove homes on the lots. However, it then refused to grant a special use permit to begin construction of the parking areas. In the following months, city officials proposed a settlement that would allow the parking lots to be built, only to have the City Council vote them down. They also rejected three other applications to begin construction. A study done by the city’s own traffic engineer showed that development of the church’s new parking lot would actually improve traffic conditions in the area, but the report was ignored. The city also demanded that the church provide and pay for additional reports related to the aesthetics, drainage, air quality and traffic impact of the new parking lots. When the church met all these arbitrary requirements, the city council simply ignored them and denied their request to build.
Finally, after years of fruitless attempts to win city approval, the church sued in the summer of 2001. Becket joined the case in December 2001, and successfully won a victory for the Church in March 2004. Judge W.R. Furgeson’s ruling took the opportunity “to encourage Castle Hills and all other similarly situated communities to engage in thorough and positive debate and negotiation on the issues of zoning of religious organizations and places of worship… Cities must govern the health, safety and welfare of their communities, but in so doing, should consider carefully the positive and supportive role that a place of worship will play in doing so.”