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
Clinton Signs Religious Zoning Law