Dear Editor:Fact: If the church had not filed the lawsuit, there would have been no cost to the city. It was purely the church's choice to spring the lawsuit upon us, completely without warning. Even during the contentious Catholic church permitting process (in which Ed provided thoughtful and helpful testimony, by the way) the applicant gave clear warnings of potential litigation whenever they found some part of the process too far over the line. And we yielded, when so warned and were potentially in the wrong. There is no reason No Limits couldn't have shown some common decency and done the same, at least warning us they considered the CUP process itself to be the problem.
Referencing the headline used last week concerning the expensive lawsuit to the city, I would expect less bias from the Mountain Home News. It was worded as if the cost to the city was caused by the church's lawsuit.
Who really was the perpetrator and who was the victim?The City council most certainly did not initiate the problem. It was the church, not the City, that chose: first, to purchase (apparently with insufficient due diligence) and then to alter and occupy, a facility with the significant problems found at the Salvation Army property. When these significant shortcomings were pointed out to the applicant, very early in the process, the City went well above and well beyond its legal obligations in helping the church to succeed, even on the inherently problematic property. Here are relevant parts of City Attorney Jay Friedly's letter detailing the extraordinary steps the city took to help the applicant succeed: (emphasis added)
I believe the church was the victim. The city council initiated the problem, along with their advisors, and is the cause of the cost to the city.
The defendants feel that their offer of settlement is very fair. At no time and in no way did any of the defendants, including the City of Mountain Home, ever deny NLCM the use of the property in question because the proposed use was for religious services. The only issues were the crosswalks, landscaping, sewage disposal and parking. The City and its employees assisted NLCM in every way that they could to help NLCM resolve these issues.The City of Mountain Home went out of its way to help this church comply with the most basic requirements, required of any applicant, church or not. And in return for this extra effort, the city was sued. I do not see how any reasonable person can read what the city tried to do to help and conclude that the church was a 'victim' here.
NLCM started remodeling the building without a building permit. A building permit is required for any kind of commercial remodel. The City could have issued a citation for this violation of the building code, but it did not. The City worked with NLCM to assist it in obtaining a building permit that was issued on November 15, 2010, which was approved and paid for on November 23, 2010.
NLCM installed a sign on the building without the required permit. The City could have issued a citation for this violation but it did not. The City worked with NLCM in obtaining the required permit after the fact.
The parking at the building in question does not meet the City’s parking ordinance. The City has taken numerous steps to inform NLCM about the City’s ordinance and has attempted to help them comply with the ordinance.
Mayor Rist asked John Matthews of the City’s Public Works Department to measure the property in question and suggest how the number of parking spaces could be maximized and still comply with parking standards. I have enclosed a copy of the engineered drawing prepared by John Matthews showing the parking spaces on the existing property. The City does not usually do this and it is not required by any law or ordinance. This was done by the City in an attempt to assist NLCM in complying with the City’s parking requirements.
Former Mayor Joe McNeal, on behalf of NLCM, stopped by my office and asked about the parking. I made a copy of the City’s parking ordinance and I gave that to him. I reviewed the parking ordinance with him. I also made a summary of the City’s parking ordinance and emailed it to Mr. McNeal on February 19, 2011. I have enclosed a copy of that summary for your reference. The City wanted to assist NLCM in knowing what was required by the City’s parking ordinance, especially concerning the documentation required to meet the parking requirements through the use of property owned by a third-party.
Bonnie Harper, the City Planner, provided NLCM with the names and telephone numbers of the personnel from the Union Pacific Railroad’s real estate department so NLCM could contact the Union Pacific Railroad and arrange for parking on Union Pacific’s property that was adjacent to the property being leased by NLCM.
The City was willing to allow NLCM to have a gravel parking lot on property that it would lease from the Union Pacific Railroad, rather than requiring the paving of the property.
As I write this letter NLCM has not complied with the City’s parking ordinance and is not connected to the City’s sewer system and thus has not complied with the City and State sanitation requirements. I mention this to try and emphasize the fact that the City of Mountain Home has indeed cooperated with NLCM and has tried to assist in every way possible for NLCM to meet the City’s requirements.
The church members were protecting themselves and their right as established under law. Fortunately, in this case, the courts agreed on who was the perpetrator by upholding the existing laws.The court agreed to no such thing: both parties agreed to settle out of court, and this statement in the release and settlement agreement makes it clear that there was no "perpetrator:"
"That it is understood and agreed by NLCM that this settlement is the compromise of doubtful and disputed claims, and that this agreement is not to be construed as an admission of liability on the part of the parties hereby released, and that said City of Mountain Home denies liability therefor and intends merely to avoid litigation and buy its peace.The church, No Limits Christian Ministries, Incorporated, signed that statement, agreeing that its claims were "doubtful and disputed." Had they considered their claims meritorious enough to prevail in court, they wouldn't have agreed to this settlement. It's simply not reasonable to make the assertion that the City was wholly at fault in this case, and the church's own statement above proves that.