Neighbors complain home beside Bethany Lutheran has been used for gatherings
SALISBURY -- A home beside Bethany Lutheran Church once welcoming camaraderie, the sharing of religious faith and discussion of scriptures is now silent.
The city of Salisbury issued a $1,000 zoning fine to Bethany Lutheran Church last week for using their $135,000 house for Bible study and other organized gatherings.
The Rev. Kevin Wackett received a letter from the city on Dec. 3 with two citations issued Nov. 17 and 24 for unauthorized use of a facility. After purchasing the home in 2002, Wackett said the church applied for a special exemption to use the home for religious purposes and was granted approval by the city, Wicomico County and the state of Maryland.
However, Bill Holland, director of the Department of Building, Permits and Inspections claims the church didn't complete the approval process, which would have included public meetings to discuss the congregation's use of the property.
"The church never received approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals to use the home for anything more than a single-family dwelling," Holland said.
About eight months prior to the fine, the church also received two complaints from Holland's department while the Beacon of Light congregation was using Bethany Lutheran's church facilities.
"They needed space and we told them to use our sanctuary and the house for Bible study," Wackett said.
The complaints issued were regarding "parking on Monticello Avenue and people carrying food into the house," he said.
"We solved that problem by having them park in the church parking lot," Wackett said.
Holland said the department has received numerous complaints from residents in the last couple of months.
"I assume they're coming from the surrounding area, but a lot of the complaints are anonymous," he said.
Holland said he placed calls to the church warning them of upcoming citations and gave them 30 days to cease activities.
"They have to pay the fine, go to court or get the special exemption," he said.
The church has stopped using the facility and has contacted an attorney. An appeal is possible under a federal law protecting churches from zoning ordinances.
"All of the sudden, we get this -- we feel kind of stabbed in the back," Wackett said. "But there's already so much hate in this world and we need to keep loving. It really won't do anyone any good to fight."
The Lutheran congregation doesn't want to fight, thus making themselves an easy mark. Imagine if the neighborhood Islamic mosque were so beset upon. The ACLU and CAIR lawyers would be crawling all over the place and screaming about rights violations!
These people aren't doing anything illegal. They are quiet, and have given their neighbors every consideration as far as parking, ect.
I'm forced to wonder if the parishioners and their threatening covered dishes would be under such scrutiny if they were convening to watch a football game?