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Northern Illinois Conference joins lawsuit on new church

11/3/2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

The following story may be used as a sidebar to UMNS #520 and UMNS #521.

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Northern Illinois Annual Conference logo, Photo number W03077, Accompanies UMNS#522
CHICAGO (UMNS)- United Methodists in northern Illinois are concerned that unfair treatment has halted the building of a new church in Long Grove.

The denomination's Northern Illinois Annual Conference filed a motion in October to join Vision United Methodist Church, a congregation of predominantly Korean-Americans, in a $5 million lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging the Village of Long Grove has "maliciously" worked to stop development of a new church.

Sam Witwer, counselor for the conference, filed with the U.S. District Court in Chicago, requesting permission to intervene as an additional co-plaintiff in the case. The court has taken the request under consideration.

"We're saying that we want to be involved in this lawsuit because we are the basic unit of United Methodism operating in northern Illinois," Witwer said.

"Vision United Methodist Church is a member congregation. Any injury that is experienced by Vision church as a result of the violation of their constitutional rights is also, by necessity, experienced at the annual conference level because we all have a common mission," he said.

"Any damage to Vision church's real estate interest is also experienced at the conference level because we have an interest in the local church's real estate, through the trust clause."

In June 1999, Vision United Methodist Church signed a contract to buy 28 acres of land in unincorporated Lake County on the condition that the Village of Long Grove would agree to annex the land and approve the church's plans to construct a worship facility.

In September 2000, after receiving an informal go-ahead from Long Grove's Plan Commission, the congregation purchased the land at the corner of Gilmer (Rte. 83) and North Kruger roads for $1.115 million.

But after more than a year of negotiations, protests by residents, expensive revisions to architectural plans, presentations and hearings, the Village of Long Grove rejected the church's request for annexation and approval.

The congregation then applied to Lake County for a building permit. Just as Lake County officials were finalizing approval of the church's development plans, Long Grove began a forced annexation of the church property.

"They did all kinds of hurried steps that are needed to be done in order to make possible an involuntary annexation," Witwer said, "including cooperating with a developer on neighboring property to do a project so they could say the church land was contiguous to the village limits."

He added that Long Grove then took steps that made it impossible to build a facility that would comply with their criteria, including amending zoning codes to require any church owning more than 20 acres of land to front a state highway. Vision 's property is on a county road.

Vision's lawsuit charges that Long Grove violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act of 2000.

Vic Filippin, with the law firm of Holland and Knight representing the Village of Long Grove, claimed it is a matter of Vision United Methodist Church not following the community's zoning ordinance.

"We have zoning regulations that apply both to churches and others," he said. "We simply wanted to make sure the zoning regulations are satisfied."

United Methodist Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, Chicago area, called Long Grove's action unconstitutional as well as "extremely hurtful to Vision Church both financially and emotionally - financially, because of the thousands of dollars they have had to waste in this process and emotionally in terms of the energy that has been dissipated from ministry in order to pursue these legalisms.

"We simply cannot sit by and either allow a congregation to be so mistreated or allow a precedent to be set that will allow other congregations in other settings to be treated in this way," Sprague said.

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