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Park 'N' Shop ('N' Pray)
by Ron Davis
A church group has won the right to use a portion of a California shopping center for conducting religious services.
The shopping center is Park ‘N’ Shop Center, located in the downtown area of Concord, and the church group purchased space there several years ago for religious services and “religious-related” use by its congregation. The religious-related use would include conferences and other such events.
That purchase initially met with opposition from Concord government officials. They explained that such uses would be inconsistent with Concord’s development objectives for the shopping center.
The church group then modified its plans with a promise to use the facility for nothing other than religious services. That modification met with more acceptance from local officials. As proposed, the church group’s proposal would seemingly help revive the shopping center, which in recent years has experienced blight-like conditions. And planners noted that prior to the church group’s purchase, the space now occupied by the group had been vacant for years.
Moreover, substantial evidence supported the conclusion that church use would actually aid the physical and economic development of a declining and underutilized retail center. Finally, several other operators of retail stores at the shopping center supported the church use, stating that it would be good for their business. Based on such findings, Concord officials approved the church project.
Opponents appealed that decision, arguing that such a noncommercial use at the shopping center would prove detrimental to the surrounding area. In fact, the general plan for that area promoted it as a “regional shopping destination” and emphasized the promotion as a “regional commercial center.”
In ruling in favor of the church group, a California appellate court explained, “The plain language of the general plan does not restrict the Park ‘N’ Shop to retail uses, and the city does not interpret the plan as requiring a retail use.... Among other things, the decline of the shopping center and the long-time lack of retail prospects for the church site persuaded the city that the church’s proposal was a step forward to the shopping center’s development and consistent with the general plan and redevelopment plan. We think these plans are flexible enough to support the city’s decision.” (Chabra v. City of Concord, 2007 WL 1620770 [Cal.App. 1 Dist.])
Decision: June 2007
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