CASTLE HILLS, Texas – The city of Castle Hills could be faced with a legal battle over violations of religious freedom if it denies the request for a special use permit by Wayside Chapel Evangelical Free Church.
The church near Loop 410 and Northwest Military owns 11 properties around the church grounds along Ivywood Road. It purchased a 12th house in March with the intent to use it as a classroom and for other religious functions.
“If we were not granted the special use permit, it denies us the use of the property,” said Roger Poupart, senior pastor of the church.
Since the church moved in 1987, it has grown to about 3,000 members. Poupart said in 2011, the church obtained a special use permit to expand the functions of their church.
The properties have remained the same outside, but some have been repurposed inside. Some are used to house missionaries who return temporarily, another is an office for a missions agency and others are multiuse properties, including one that is used as a distribution center for the Meals on Wheels program.
“We're just trying to enlarge the space we have available to continue to do this,” Poupart said.
He said the church has always been vigilant to provide financial contributions to the city to offset the loss of property taxes from the properties it has purchased.
The request was approved by the Zoning Board in the spring, but it was returned for another review by City Council following some concerns. On Thursday, a different Zoning Board made up of different members denied the request.
The 50-minute discussion included a conversation about previous case law and also questions that the special use permit should be made as a new request and not under the 2011 special use permit.
Board member Jana Baker made the recommendation, which passed 4-1 to head to City Council. Concerns about safety and the protection of the community have been raised by some city leaders.
City Council will consider the recommendation Tuesday and could vote to deny or approve the special use permit. It will need a supermajority, according to Mayor JR Trevino.
City Council could also vote to table the vote for another day. The city’s attorney has recommended that the council pass the special use permit based on the fact that other special use permits have already been granted.
Poupart said a denial for the permit would be a violation of the Religious Land Use Act.
“The next move, unfortunately, is to go to court. The Bible tells us that if you're on your way to court, to turn aside and do everything you can so that you don't have to engage in a lawsuit,” Poupart said. “And we've been doing that. We've walked for months and months through this process. We followed everything we know how to do, and so we're going to do that again tomorrow night. But it's the city that forces the issue and denies it, and the only recourse we have left is to go to litigation.”
The mayor said due to the recent lawsuits surrounding Castle Hills' own City Council members and budget concerns with the property tax rate funds, the city cannot afford another lawsuit.