Christian School Battles Ohio City So It Can Use Building It Owns

(Brendan Clarey, Liberty Headlines) A Christian school from Columbus, Ohio, filed for an appeal for a court’s decision preventing the school from using a building they own because of land zoning regulations, which they claim is religious discrimination.

Christian School Battles Ohio City So It Can Use Building It Owns

Tree of Life Building/PHOTO: Alliance Defending Freedom

In 2010 Tree of Life Christian Schools bought a building in Upper Arlington, a city outside Columbus, that would allow them to teach all their students in one location instead of four different places.

The city of Upper Arlington would not let them use the building because of zoning laws that designate the area for office space.

The school filed a lawsuit in 2011 against Upper Arlington, legally represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, claiming the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects individuals and religious organizations from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws, according to the Department of Justice.

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Tree of Life claims that the city discriminates against them because other organizations use buildings outside its zoning laws, even if they create less tax revenue.

“No city should use its zoning laws to engage in religious discrimination under the guise of maximizing tax revenue,” ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley said in a press release Tuesday. “The city’s zoning law allows daycare facilities and other similar uses of equal size that provide less tax revenue than even Tree of Life’s school. Federal law prohibits zoning discrimination against religious land use; therefore, Tree of Life should be allowed to use its building for the schooling purposes it has long intended.”

In 2013, Tree of Life tried to rezone their property so that they could use the space, but Upper Arlington refused to budge.

Upper Arlington’s zoning law, known as the “the Master Plan,” focuses “considerable emphasis on the need to cultivate the commercial use of land in order for the City to be financially stable,” according to court documents in the most recent decision against the school.

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The city’s planning staff argues the rezoning would negatively impact potential economic growth.

“Staff believes that the proposed rezoning is in direct opposition to numerous core Master Plan goals and objectives,” wrote Chad Gibson, Upper Arlington’s Senior Planning Officer, in a staff report to City Council. “The proposed zoning change would eliminate nearly 16 acres of extremely limited ORC–zoned ground, which will reduce the amount of office and research space within the City.”

They continue to describe why a school would be bad for land designated for office space.

“A K–12 school has inherent characteristics which can be intrusive and destructive to an office park. Traffic, including school bus circulation, loading and unloading, can be challenging for an area to accommodate,” Gibson’s report continues.

“After–school activities such as band and theater productions can also bring large number of parents and students to an area, often necessitating overflow parking demands,” Gibson says later. “Outdoor events such as band practice can create noise impacts for office workers who are attempting to do business and/or serve clients.”

Judge George C. Smith ruled against Tree of Life Christian Schools about a month ago because Tree of Life did not prove the existence of discrimination.

“Plaintiff, a religious school, is treated the same as every other nonreligious assembly or institution, such as secular schools, that do not maximize tax revenue as they are all prohibited from the ORC Office and Research District,” Smith wrote in the opinion. “Therefore, regardless of what test is applied, there is no nonreligious assembly or institution similarly situated that is being treated better than Plaintiff.”


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  • Louie Rey

    This is insane. So you own something yet the government doesn’t allow you to use it because it doesn’t fall within their guidelines? Really? This is further proof of what Ronald Reagan once said. He said that the last thing you want to hear is “Hi, I’m from the federal government and I’m here to help.”

    • Mike

      i do not disagree with you. my question is are you opposed to the border wall if residents in Texas along the border do not want the wall? in Texas most of the land is privately owned and many residents on the border do not want the wall taking away their land. are you ok with forcing them to give up their land for the wall? if so why is that situation different from a local government dictating what a building can be used for?

      • Louie Rey

        I wasn’t aware of the fact that some Texans are against the wall. I could see their reasoning but exactly how wide, not high but wide, is the wall going to be? How much of the wall is going to infringe on their property. I wouldn’t be surprised if at the point where the wall would be built the land isn’t being used for much. Again, I’m not a farmer or anything but I’d think that wouldn’t be such a detriment to these Texans. I wonder what the outcome would be if they were given a choice between maintaining their proerty as is or increasing their security. That would be interesting.

        • Mike

          The majority of Texans are Republican but are actually against the wall because they understand it will do nothing to decrease illegal immigration and is a waste of taxpayer money. The issue with land is that there are several treaties with Mexico one of which involves the Rio Grande river and neither side can disrupt the natural flow of the Rio Grande river. The river is along the border and this means that a structure like the wall cannot be placed right on the border it has be moved approximately 20 miles inland. This will actually make some people who live on the border now have a wall between them and the United States despite being citizens, for others it will be huge swaths of their land taken because the area on the other side of the wall will effectively be made unusable. Again most Texans are for Trump, but are against the wall because illegal immigration and the flow of drugs will not be deterred at all by the wall. We have a wall in some places along the border and the drug cartels simply tunnel under it or send their drugs over it.

  • Steve G.

    “The Master Plan” Is this a city in Ohio or Berlin? I think using zoning laws to maximize tax revenue for a city is a disgrace. Zoning laws are for safety and for protecting residential neighborhoods. Every thing about liberals is about taxing people to death.

    • michael schimanski

      That’s the democrats for you , rape , we the people anyway they can .Democrats will never pass up a chance to make a dishonest dollar .

    • Strangerinastangeland

      You know little of modern city and county government. Get involved. Your head will explode.

  • ImOffendedTreatMeSpecial

    But it is not their property. If it is your property you can do what you want with it but you can’t. You have to get the city/county/state’s permission before you can use it or make changes to it. You think you bought the property and you own it but in reality you only bought the right to rent it from the government. They own it and will tell you what you can and cannot do with it. Try not paying your rent (aka taxes and fees) and see how soon you are out.

    • kingwarren

      The real problem is once the building becomes a school run by a religious group it goes off the tax rolls. If this building was being used by a public school for classrooms I bet all the other issues would disappear.

  • R M

    They knew what the land was zoned for when they bought it or should have? They should have spoken to the city before the purchase to see if the city would change the zoning if not they should have bought some other property. Stop whining and move on.

  • Glenn

    When the Christian school was working on purchasing the building, the zoning issue should have been addressed and resolved at that time. That would have been the smart move. So the Christian school might have a larger battle to fight with them as new owners. vs the city zoning. Now the new owners must negotiate a rezoning or conditional permit.

    • G. W.

      Check the dictionary for the definition of “fascism”.

    • independent thinker

      ” Now the new owners must negotiate a rezoning or conditional permit.”

      They already tried that and the city refused to work with them. Read the article.

  • 2egypt

    Looks like the devil is everywhere

    • Mike

      he is definitely in the White House not sure about elsewhere.

      • kep

        Idiot troll

        • Mike

          you really think trump is a troll? an idiot sure, but I never thought a troll but I defer to you as you are one of his sheeple.

          • kep

            Creatures like you should go back to your Mother Russia before you find yourself facing charges of sedition . America finally has an American President that is actually doing exactly what he was elected to do. You communists really need to quit while you still can.

  • Jesse Hayes

    If it was zoned this way before they bought it then it’s their stupidity. If they zoned it after they bought it then the city is discriminating.


    WoW! I must admit my first comment was wrong. That’s what happens with knee jerk reactions. Seems the republican have had more control of the city over the course of time.

  • Lmcyber

    There is a reason for zoning laws. This school could easily sell this building, which for office use commands high revenue, and then they can go out and buy what they want in a much better area, and probably a much better building. There are solutions to every problem instead of always trying to cause a problem.

  • JWB

    Our government “leaders” do not view favorably the idea of a “private” school, especially one that deems itself a “Christian” school, in any location and will never “bend” in this case either, regardless of the “master plan” zoning laws. Sadly, again the most vulnerable in society, the children, will suffer the greatest “loss”, the chance at a quality education.

  • Christian_Prophet

    Christian schools are not above the law. Zoning laws are meant for a purpose and I have never heard of a school in an office area. I have spent many years on zoning boards and would never approve of education use in an office and research zoned area. Christian schools should investigate the law before they start buying buildings.