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Court Rules to Protect Landmark

On March 31, 2009, the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois rejected a church's challenge to the City of Peoria's decision to landmark a historic apartment building it owned, as well as the city's subsequent refusal to allow the church to demolish the building. The church based its suit on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act +(RLUIPA), a 2000 federal law that protects houses of worship from local land use decisions that impinge excessive burden on a congregation’s ability to exercise its faith.


U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division: A Guide To Federal Religious Land Use Protections

As reported in Landmarks Illinois’ January 2007 newsletter, the historic Prairie-style Roanoke Apartments building, owned by Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, was declared a city landmark in 2000. It is adjacent to the locally designated Randolph Roanoke Historic District. In 2006, the church sought to demolish the building and argued that it needed the additional land to expand its ministries by building a community center. The Peoria Historic Preservation Commission twice denied a certificate of appropriateness, prompting church officials to ask City Council to supersede the commission's ruling by repealing the building’s landmark designation. Both Landmarks Illinois and the Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation objected to the repeal request. Landmarks Illinois emphasized in a November 2006 letter to the Peoria City Council that RLUIPA “…does not provide religious institutions with immunity from land use regulation, nor does it relieve religious institutions from applying for variances, special permits or exceptions…” 146 Cong.Rec. S7774, S7776 (daily ed. July 27, 2000).

The Peoria City Council denied church officials’ request to repeal the landmark designation and the congregation filed suit in February 2007 invoking RLUIPA's "substantial burden" provision. In his ruling, citing a past case – Vision Church v. Village of Long Grove – Judge McDade held that the limitations on the church's ability to tear down the building did not constitute a "substantial burden." The court also found it significant that the city's decision affected only one building on the church campus and did not prevent the church from continuing its religious ministries. The court recognized that the inability to demolish the church did place a financial burden on the church, but found that this burden was not "substantial" within the meaning of RLUIPA.

The Trinity congregation has until April 30 to file an appeal. Based on that decision, city officials and advocates will determine how best to address the future of the building. The City maintains that the church has adequate land upon which to build new facilities. In the meantime, the Roanoke Apartments building remains empty, suffering from deferred maintenance. The church also has turned down a previous purchase offer.

For more information, please contact Josh Naven at (309) 494-8657 or jnaven@ci.peoria.il.us.

Statement by Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation

Peoria Response Brief








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