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FHC's Ruth Kraut with Rev. Samuel Peppers of the Fountain Church of God in Christ, with zoning plans for a property.

Fountain Church of God in Christ v Scio Township

#W95-47 | Location: | Court Level: Federal | Settlement: $35,000

Categories: Other, Race
Tags: African American, Black, Conditional Use Permit, Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, Permit

Ann Arbor’s Fountain Church of God in Christ and Realtor Alvan Rimson filed a race discrimination suit against Scio Township, the Scio Township Planning Commission and the Township Board of Trustees. The discrimination suit is also filed against Richard and Mary Burney, Scio Township residents.

In late 1994, Fountain Church of God in Christ, an African-American church, attempted to purchase land zoned A-1 (agricultural) and have a conditional use permit issued in order to build a new church. The property is located at the corner of West Delhi and Miller Roads.

In February 1995, on a 4-3 vote, and against the advice of their planning consultant, the Planning Commission denied the conditional use permit to Fountain Church. An investigation conducted by the Fair Housing Center of Washtenaw County found that Fountain Church was the only house of worship to be denied a conditional use permit by the Scio Township Planning Commission since 1978.

The Planning Commission cited “incompatibility” with the surrounding neighborhood as its reason for denial of the conditional use permit. However, land-use expert, Charles Leman of Villican-Leman, wrote in his land-use analysis that “It is our opinion the Fountain Church site is suitable for a church… Of the six church sites which have been approved, a number exhibit many of the same characteristics as the Fountain Church site… adequate site size exists to provide a harmonious relationship through proper landscaping an d screening of the church property.”

In their complaint to the FHC-Washtenaw County, the Church Board of Deacons stated that they believed they were denied a special conditional use permit because of the race of their church membership. Church member and realtor Mrs. Rimson claims to have lost the commission associated with the sale of the land, a commission that she planned to donate to the church.

Fountain COGIC was then located on Fountain Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Having outgrown their building, the church was looking for new space. After being denied the conditional use permit by Scio Township, they subsequently found a larger building on West Stadium in Ann Arbor near Pioneer High School.

According to the Township documents, the Township’s own planning consultant held that the tangible issues were resolvable, and believed that the church could be compatible with the zoning and neighborhood. Several other churches approved by the Township were asked to address problems related to landscaping, noise, traffic, and drainage.

FHC Cooperating Attorney Benjamin Whitfield, Jr. filed suit on behalf of Fountain Church of God in Christ in Federal District Court. The suit alleges violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constituion, the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1871, and the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The case was assigned to Judge Avern L. Cohn.

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