Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mission City Council Reverses Itself, Will Now Permit LDS Church To Build A Chapel In Mission, Texas

On Wednesday December 7th, 2011, after a recommendation from its attorney, the Mission (Texas) City Council decided to revisit two previous votes that ultimately prohibited the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from building a chapel on the corner of Bryan and Two Mile roads in a residential neighborhood. After city attorney Robert Galligan advised the council that the city was interpreting parts of its zoning code incorrectly, city council members voted four to one to allow the church to build, with Norie Gonzalez Garza again dissenting. Maria Elena Ramirez was the council member changing her previous No vote to a Yes vote.

On October 31st, the church filed suit in federal court against the city of Mission for obstructing their plans to construct the chapel, claiming that the city council violated religious land-use acts, religious freedom laws and due process laws. They claimed the council changed the voting rules for permit approval, and that at least one member of the council, Garza, had a conflict of interest in voting on the issue. The church stated they were merely seeking a conditional use permit and not a zoning change. Church representatives said that chosen location was the only one that met all of its requirements, which included a noncommercial area, having five or more acres of land, accessibility to members, the right price and spiritual inspiration. The new chapel will accommodate the Mission First and Second Wards, both of which currently meet at an overcrowded chapel in McAllen which is also used by two additional wards. It is now expected that the LDS Church will drop its suit.

Norie Garza denied any conflict of interest even though she's a real estate agent, and said she was merely representing the interests of the surrounding neighborhood. Nine of the 12 neighbors living within 200 feet of the property signed a petition against giving the church a conditional use permit to build on the property, which is zoned as agricultural. There was no apparent bias against the LDS Church itself; neighbors merely feared the effects of an upsurge in traffic.

Not mentioned in the story is the fact that Mission, in south Texas, is in the same area where two LDS missionaries were struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver on November 8th. The resultant expression of sympathy may have softened the hearts of those opposed to the new Mission chapel.

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