The Town of Sylva came under the crosshairs of the US Department of Justice. The DOJ appears to be going around suing local governments for violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.
The federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 prohibits towns from applying land-use regulations that: impose a substantial burden on religious exercise absent a compelling justification pursued in the least restrictive means; treats a religious assembly or institution on less than equal terms with nonreligious assemblies or institutions; discriminates against religious entities on the basis of religion or religious denomination; and totally excludes or unreasonably limits religious assemblies, institutions or structures within a jurisdiction.
The pastor of the church in question doesn’t know how the whole thing started, and Emily Pierce of the DOJ isn’t telling. Pastor Doug Rowe of Father’s House of Prayer wanted to have a church in a downtown commercial space, but zoning forbade it. Sylva not only zones on a two-dimensional map – it zones altitudinally, and churches are not allowed on the street level downtown. It is supposed to foster one of those business feels, but maybe somebody took consigning the saints to the rooms above and the sinners below as some kind of threat. As it turned out, somebody rented the property before anybody got around to wending the project through the permitting process.
In the non-eschatological winding up scenes, it appears the town will not be deemed in violation, keeping money in the local economy and out of the pockets of federal lawyers and bureaucrats. Only $2500 was blown in the exercise.