United States v. City of Troy

Decision Date18 March 2022
Docket NumberCase No. 19-cv-12736
Citation592 F.Supp.3d 591
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF TROY, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan

Abigail B. Marshak, United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Washington, DC, Katherine Raimondo, DOJ-Crt, Civil Rights Division, Washington, DC, Susan K. DeClercq, U.S. Attorney's Office, Detroit, MI, Shannon M. Ackenhausen, U.S. Department of Justice, Detroit, MI, for Plaintiff.

Allan T. Motzny, Lori G. Bluhm, Troy City Law Department, Troy, MI, for Defendant.


Nancy G. Edmunds, United States District Judge

This case is a companion to Adam Community Center v. City of Troy , No. 18-cv-13481, in which the complainant, Adam Community Center, alleges that the City of Troy, among others, violated its rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc - 2000cc-5, ("RLUIPA"), as well as the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by, primarily, implementing and imposing a land use regulation that places a burden on the religious exercise of the Islamic Adam Community Center and treats it differently from similar, secular institutions.

After Adam Community Center filed its complaint, the United States brought the present case against the City of Troy. The United States alleges that the Troy zoning ordinance violates the Equal Terms Provision of RLUIPA and imposes a substantial burden on Adam Community Center's religious exercise in violation of RLUIPA. (ECF No. 1.) The matter is now before the Court on fully briefed cross motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 45, 46, 48, 50, 53, 54.) The Court, having reviewed the extensive briefing in this matter, finds that a hearing is not necessary. See E.D. Mich. L.R. 7.1(f)(2). For the reasons stated below, the City of Troy's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED, and the United States’ Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

A. The City of Troy's Zoning Ordinance

The City of Troy, ("City" or "Troy"), is a municipality located within the State of Michigan. It has enacted a comprehensive set of zoning ordinances that govern the use and development of real property located within its borders (the "ZO"). In 2011, Troy updated the ZO according to a revised Master Plan. ECF No. 45-2, PageID.1319. The overall purpose of the ZO is now to "promote and safeguard the public health, safety, and welfare [and] implement the City of Troy Master Plan." ZO § 1.03. It further strives to "promote and regulate growth," "protect the character and stability of residential neighborhoods," "promote the wise use and conservation of energy and vital natural resources," "improve the appearance and design quality of development," "prevent an unreasonable burden on public facilities and services," "lessen and avoid [traffic] congestion ... and provide safe and convenient access for property," and "conserve the taxable value of land, buildings, and structures in the City of Troy." Id.

The ZO divides Troy into 22 zoning districts, each with permitted uses and dimensional and other restrictions for buildings. See ZO § 4.01, ECF No. 8, PageID.49, 52. Uses within each district are labeled as "permitted as of right," "requiring special approval," "accessory," or "not permitted." Id. , ZO § 4.21. The ZO also prescribes "setbacks" which are required distances between buildings and property lines ("setback standards"), and regulates parking in these setbacks ("parking standards"). The setback standards and parking standards address concerns related to traffic on adjacent streets, people's safety accessing buildings, and secondary impacts on nearby properties such as noise or light. See, e.g. , ECF No. 45-2, PageID.1352; ECF No. 45-3, PageID.1468, PageID.1473.

The general setback and parking standards apply to the uses that are permitted as of right in each district. See, e.g. , ZO §§ 4.14 C, D.4. But the ZO imposes different standards on certain uses ("use-specific standards") that supersede general standards wherever that use is located. See ZO Art. VI; ECF No. 45-2, PageID.1353. According to Troy, use-specific standards are "designed to minimize negative impact(s) [certain] uses may have on surrounding property." ECF No. 46, PageID.2098.

One land use that Troy subjects to use-specific setback and parking standards is "places of worship."1 ZO § 6.21. Troy's Community Development Director states that "places of worship present unique potential negative impacts on a community" due to the significant number of visitors and the traffic influxes which occur during short periods of time and on a regular basis. ECF No. 46, PageID.2099. This creates the potential for increased noise, light, and exhaust fumes, as well as busy thoroughfares and parking access points. ECF No. 45-11, PageID.1706.

The ZO allows places of worship to operate in 16 districts within Troy—six districts as of right (1-General Business, 2-Community Business, 3-Integrated Industrial and Business, 4-Office, 5-Office Mixed Use, and 6-Research Center) and ten districts with special approval (Community Facilities district and nine residential districts). ZO § 4.21. This amounts to approximately 97% of the land area in the City of Troy. ECF No. 45-11, PageID.1705. Through all districts, there are approximately 60 places of worship within the City, though none of these are Islamic mosques. ECF No. 45-3, PageID.1520. The City lacks a permanent location for Islamic worship. ECF No. 45-19, PageID.1851.

In the six districts that allow places of worship as of right, Troy imposes the following general setback and parking standards:

                Minimum Setback Requirements and Parking Restrictions
                District Front Rear Sides Adjacent to Parking Restrictions
                Residential in Setback Areas
                Community                 10'       30'      20'*      75'             = 50% of front; not within 10' of
                  Business                                                               residential or public street
                  General Business          10'       30'      20'*      75'             = 50% of front; not within 10' of
                                                                                         residential or public street
                  Integrated Industrial     30'       20'      10'       50'             Not in front; not within 10' of
                  & Business                                                             residential or public street
                  Office                    10'       30'      20'       50'             = 50% of front; not within 10' of
                                                                                         residential or public street
                  Office Mixed Use          10'       30'      20'**     50'             = 50% of front; not within 10' of
                                                                                         residential or public street
                  Research Center           30'       20'      20'       50'             Not in front or by public street
                                                                                         not within 10' of residential
                  * No setbacks are required where the lot abuts a non-residential lot unless the property's related wall has
                windows; a minimum 10' setback is required where the property's wall has windows or openings
                ** In the Office Mixed Use district, the sum total of both side setbacks must be at least 60 feet

ECF No. 45, PageID.1279; ECF No. 8, PageID.57-58, ¶¶ 65-70. These setback and parking standards apply to nonreligious assemblies and institutions allowed by right in these districts, including conference, meeting and banquet facilities; mortuary/funeral homes; fine and performing art facilities; primary and secondary schools; restaurants; and theaters and places of assembly. Id. The general standards do not apply to places of worship as these are expressly subject to the use-specific setback and parking requirements found in ZO §§ 6.21(E)-(F).

The use-specific setback standards require places of worship to maintain a minimum 50-foot setback on every side of the building, regardless of neighboring uses. See ZO § 6.21. Parking standards for places of worship are also use-specific—parking is completely prohibited in any setback adjacent to a public street or residential property (setback and parking standards are collectively, "place of worship standards"). Id. ; ECF No. 8, PageID.49-50, ¶ 20. These place of worship standards apply to all places of worship in each district where they are permitted. Id.

The ZO also treats places of worship differently from other uses in Troy's Community Facilities district, where it requires places of worship to apply for and obtain a special use permit before using a property. See ZO § 4.21. According to the City, the Community Facilities district is "intended to provide areas for those public, quasi-public, or private institutional and service uses necessary to serve the cultural, educational, and physical needs of the community." ZO § 4.11. Thus, institutions such as fine and performing arts facilities, primary and secondary schools, and public owned or operated office and service facilities may operate by right in the district, without obtaining a permit. Id.

Years ago, when Troy first imposed the place of worship standards, places of worship were located primarily within residential districts and always required special approval to operate. ECF No 45-2, PagieID.1322; ECF No. 8, PageID.49-50. But Troy's 2011 ZO rewrite changed this to allow places of worship to operate "as of right" in the six districts discussed above. The place of worship standards, however, did not change with the ZO's rewrite. According to Troy's Community Development Director, Troy carried the place of worship standards over to all districts in 2011 without "a lot of thought," because they "seemed to be functioning very well." ECF No. 45-2, PageID.1323.

B. Dimensional Variances From The ZO

Troy's Zoning Board of Appeals ("...

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