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Church can locate in commercial building

SALEM – For the second time in a month, Salem City Council last night continued a public hearing on a church’s request to locate in a business zone, but that hearing in May probably won’t be needed.

CommUNITY Church will be allowed to locate in the commercial zone on Russell Drive, without rezoning, council members agreed, after getting legal advice from their attorney last week.

There were only four members of the public present for the council meeting Monday night when the advertised public hearing was to have been held, in addition to the five council members plus staff. The number was in sharp contrast to the more-than-100 church members expected before the city’s attorney and the church’s attorney came to an agreement last week.

After the meeting, Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess explained the city will allow the church to locate in the building formerly used by Designed Telecommunications – once necessary renovations have been made and approved by the building inspector and fire marshal to turn the manufacturing space into an assembly area.

A prepared statement released Feb. 4 explained why Salem City Council members decided not to fight the church’s request: “After a great deal of consultation and research, the City of Salem has determined that it is not in the city’s best interest to challenge a federal statute in an effort to keep CommUNITY Church from locating on Russell Drive and occupying a building situated in an area that is currently zoned business-commerce. …Although the City will not be rezoning the property as requested, it recognizes, in these unique circumstances, that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 takes priority.”

City leaders said part of their decision was the potential for a legal battle to be both lengthy and costly.

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