Brewer Denies Expansion Permit to Church, Attorney Says Dept. of Justice Investigating
The City Center Shopping Plaza in Brewer now just bears a semblance of a place that became a rock of support for hundreds over the last three years.”It’s a little sad, you know. It’s bittersweet. We had some sweet memories here, a lot of lives changed, people came to the Lord here,” said Pastor Kirk Winters of The Rock Church.The church has decided to pack up and merge with its Bangor location after their request to expand in the plaza was denied by the city.”They said it wasn’t a zoned usage. We never should have been allowed in here in the first place,” said Winters.The plaza is considered a convenience business zone, which the church doesn’t fall under.”So, they would let us stay in this small space, but they would not let us expand,” said Winters.But while city officials say the church is in violation of zoning laws, Winters believes the city is in violation of a federal law, and now the Department of Justice is looking into it.”It’s the Religious Land Use Institutionalized Persons Act. RLUPA is what it’s called, and it says that if you allow other assembled uses, for example, a theater or a bar or a club, then you can’t discriminate against a church, a religious institution,” said Winters.According to the church’s attorney, Stephen Whiting, the Justice Department agrees.”I spoke to the lady at the Justice Department this morning, who’s in charge of the case, and she said that it’s clear to her that the ordinance violates the federal law,” said Whiting.But Brewer’s City Manager, Stephen Bost, told us the city has not been contacted by the Department of Justice, and he is unaware of any investigation.Pastor Winters doesn’t plan to take action against the city, but the building’s owner does.”The landlord has taken a huge hit because we were going to enter into a long term lease with the landlord for more space,” said Whiting.An attorney for the landlord told us they plan to seek about $400,000 in damages from the city.It should cover what he’ll lose from the church’s departure, but not necessarily the price the church’s congregation has to pay.”It’s sad to leave our space, to be moving on,” said Winters.