Steven Dimitt Discusses RLUIPA in Permit Denial for Norfolk Church

Dimitt, the attorney for Our Savior Lutheran Church, said he believes that it is unfair for the city to bar churches from an I-1 zoning district while permitting secular organizations to build in an I-1 district.

As a result, Dimitt said he believes that the city is in violation of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

“By allowing secular membership organizations to operate as of right in the I-1 zoning district and excluding religious organizations, the city’s zoning code treats religious assemblies and institutions less favorably than their secular counterparts,” Dimitt said in a prepared statement. “This is a clear violation of RLUIPA.”

The Norfolk Daily News pointed out that Section 27-401 of the Norfolk city code  — the city’s land-use matrix — allows professional membership organizations, private clubs, and fraternal, civic and social associations in an I-1 zoning district but does not permit churches and monasteries.

Dimitt said Our Savior still intends to one day occupy the Eagle Distributing property as its new church home.

“The church is currently exploring and evaluating its options, including the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the city under the RLUIPA federal statute,” Dimitt said. “The U.S. Department of Justice has also been contacted regarding the issues pertaining to the church and the City of Norfolk.”

About Steven

Steven Dimitt represents clients in all areas of land use from the initial planning process to litigation. He has represented developers and property owners in a variety of land use issues, including zoning changes, specific use permits, abandonments, and planned development districts. Steven’s land use litigation practice has recently focused on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person’s Act (RLUIPA).