Jackson Walker Attorneys Negotiate Zoning Changes Based on RLUIPA

December 22, 2016 | Client Results

Jackson Walker represented Our Savior Lutheran Church of Norfolk, Nebraska (OSLC) in obtaining a zoning change in the City of Norfolk’s land use matrix that will permit OSLC to operate as a place of worship on its recently-purchased property. When OSLC purchased property located in a light industrial zoned district, the city advised OSLC it was not permitted to operate as a church under the city’s land use matrix in effect at that time. After the city advised OSLC they had no intention of changing the zoning to permit to allow OSLC to operate as a church on its property, OSLC retained Jackson Walker.

The Jackson Walker team, led by Partner Michael L. Knapek and Associate Steven W. Dimitt, notified city officials that the land use matrix in effect at that time violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq., because the city’s land use matrix discriminated against churches and substantially burdened OSLC’s religious rights.

After several months of Jackson Walker advocating OSLC’s religious rights, on December 19, 2016, the City of Norfolk changed its land use matrix to permit a place of worship to operate in a light industrial zoned district. The zoning change allows OSLC to operate as a place of worship on its property.

OSLC feels Jackson Walker was instrumental in getting the city to change its land use matrix. OSLC Pastor Lee Weander stated, “Without the Jackson Walker attorneys, this zoning change would not have happened. The knowledge that Mike and Steven have of RLUIPA and the process was significant in making this happen.  OSLC will be forever grateful to Jackson Walker for its counsel and advice.”

Meet Our Team

Michael L. (Mike) Knapek is a partner in the Litigation section of Jackson Walker. In his over 30-year career as a trial lawyer, Mike has served as the head of Jackson Walker’s Dallas Litigation section and has developed a diverse practice in which he focuses on representing plaintiffs and defendants in complex commercial, injury and property damage lawsuits.

Steven Dimitt represents clients in a variety of land use issues, including zoning changes, specific use permits, abandonments, and planned development districts.  He also represents clients in litigation disputes with local governmental entities involving takings, inverse condemnation, and vested rights.

Both attorneys’ practices have recently focused on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person’s Act (RLUIPA). The team recently represented a church in a federal court lawsuit, which resulted in the church obtaining the necessary zoning approvals that the local municipality had previously refused to provide.