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Church Wins Major Land Battle Against Florida City — and the Case Is Being Called ‘Important’

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

October 6, 2015, The Blaze

A land dispute that pitted a Florida church against residents and local officials, alike, has concluded with a favorable outcome for the house of worship, according to a conservative legal firm.

The Church of Our Savior, an Anglican church located in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, has secured permission to build a new church on a disputed plot of land, despite claims that the space is only zoned for residential structures, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced in a statement on Tuesday.

The church found itself locked in a heated battle with local residents and government officials after faith leaders first applied for a building permit in 2013 in an effort to construct a permanent worship space for its members on a plot of land that it owns.

The church was twice denied before taking legal action and securing an initial victory, despite attorney Dan Dalton saying that the Church of Our Savior never wanted to head to court over the matter.

A Florida district court ruled in favor of the Church of Our Savior back in 2014 on the grounds that the house of worship had suffered a violation of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects churches from discrimination, but the city appealed, as neighbors near the empty plot of land also spoke out against letting the church build there.

“I’m not against the church. I’m just against where they want to place it,” neighbor Mark Gorman, whose yard borders where the church would be built, told WJAX-TV earlier this year. “If the zoning changes, then it devalues your real estate.”

The settlement announcement on Tuesday seemingly ends the longstanding battle between the church and the local community.

“We are so thankful to finally be free to build a house of worship in the place we believe God has called us,” the Rev. David Ball, pastor of the Church of Our Savior, said in the statement. “We are blessed to have had Becket come along side us in our time of need.”

Prior to this settlement, past attempts to mediate had been unsuccessful, WJAX-TV reported.

The Becket Fund called the conclusion of the case “an important victory reaffirming the rights of religious communities everywhere seeking to build new places of worship.”