U.S. lawsuit against city dismissed

by | Apr 25, 2019 | Latest

A new mandated sign inside the Farmersville City Hall stating that the city follows the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA). (Wyndi Veigel/The Farmersville Times)

The lawsuit between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the city of Farmersville in regard to the Islamic Association of Collin County (IACC) cemetery project has been dismissed.

The DOJ filed a lawsuit April 16 alleging that the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).

The lawsuit recites allegations regarding the city’s prior disapproval of a preliminary plat for property owned by the IACC proposed as a cemetery.

According to the signed settlement agreement between the DOJ and the city, Farmersville officials have 90 days to provide training on the requirements of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA) to “persons that have responsibilities relating to the enactment, implementations and enforcements of the city’s zoning or land use regulations.”

According to City Attorney Alan Lathrom, this will include current council, Planning and Zoning Commission members and city staff that deal with land use issues. It will not apply to prior councilmembers or previous mayors. Since Councilmember Michael Hesse is not running for reelection, most likely, he will also not be required to take the training.

The city is vigorously denying any wrongdoing or violation of RLUIPA, and denies the alleged basis for the lawsuit.

“As most Farmersville citizens know, the city’s lawful concerns about the property being used as a cemetery centered on flooding problems, which were discussed at length with the Islamic Association in 2015, and thereafter. The city and the Islamic Association resolved all matters of concern regarding the property’s use as a cemetery, including limitations on the Islamic Association’s use of the area that floods, and the city approved the preliminary and final plats for the Property in September 2018,” city officials released in a statement.

According to information released in the city’s statement, “the DOJ nonetheless pursued an investigation into the city’s plat approval process even after all matters had been resolved with the Islamic Association. Indeed, the city and the DOJ resolved and settled all matters earlier this year, yet the DOJ would not agree to the city’s reasonable observation that all matters had been resolved, and request that a federal lawsuit need not be filed.”

“We wanted to save money on attorney’s fees by resolving these matters with the DOJ rather than engage in lengthy litigation just to prove to the court that the DOJ’s reasons for wanting to sue the city had been resolved and mooted,” said Farmersville Mayor Randy Rice said. “Contrary to the DOJ’s one-sided account recited in the lawsuit, and notwithstanding DOJ’s insistence on a symbolic filing of a federal lawsuit, the city enacts, implements and enforces its zoning and land use regulations in compliance with RLUIPA.”

According to documentation previously researched by The Farmersville Times through the Freedom of Information Act, more than $42,000 in legal fees had been spent by the city as of October 2018 in regard to the IACC cemetery project. The Times is working to acquire an updated cost for legal fees.

The mayor added that he is glad that it is over with. Members of city council declined to comment.

By Wyndi Veigel • News Editor • [email protected]

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