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Posted 12 Mar 2001   For week ended February 16, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 13Feb01

By Kent Larsen

Seattle Area Ban on New Chapels Inconveniences Area Churches

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON -- King County, Washington, the county that includes Seattle and some of its suburbs, on Monday placed a moratorium on new building permits for chapels and schools until this coming December, inconveniencing the LDS Church and other large religions in the area and surprising local school districts, which had hoped to build in coming months. But the move is minor compared with the proposal that led to the ban as a compromise; restricting new chapels to 10,000 square feet or less.

The compromise, which only affects new permit applications outside the county's urban-growth boundary (i.e., the area currently zoned to stay rural), was reached to allow a task force to study the issue of size limits on new churches and private schools. County Executive Ron Sims last year proposed that new buildings be limited to no more than 10,000 square feet to stop what he calls "the suburbanization of rural King County." Environmentalists backed the plan.

But the Catholic, Lutheran and Mormon Churches in the county objected to Sims' plan, as did the interfaith Church Council of Greater Seattle, arguing that the ban would prevent them from serving a growing rural population. Last week Catholic Archbishop Alexander Brunett even argued against Sims' proposal in a newspaper column and threatened a lawsuit and retaliation at the polls if the limit was approved. The church objections divided the council, which had been unable to act on the issue before Monday's compromise.

Complicating the issue was a new federal law, supported in Congress by the LDS Church and others, which limited the ability of local zoning authorities to zone churches. That law, passed to protect religious organizations from discrimination through the use of zoning laws, was introduced in the US Senate by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) after he learned that 50% of challenges by churches to zoning laws were from religions that represent less than 10% of the population.

In order to avoid the charge of discrimination, King County Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Wright told the county council that the ban would have to be applied to public as well as private schools, frustrating the plans of local school board officials.

Mormon News' analysis indicates that the Church has at least 13 stakes in the county, with probably more than 100 wards and branches. However, the number of congregations in rural King county is not known.


Growth showdown postponed: County opts for moratorium, task force on church/school issue
Seattle WA Times 13Feb01 T1
By Eric Pryne: Seattle Times staff reporter

See also:

Clinton Signs Religious Zoning Law


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