Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Aug. 2 @ 11:56 a.m. / Community, Local Government, Oregon
Brookings Planning Commission Denies St. Timothy's Appeal With One Member Calling the Church's Legal Aid Clinic A Business
Brookings Planning Commissioner Anthony Bond referenced scripture before he seconded a motion to let stand a city threat to fine St. Timothy Episcopal Church.
Citing Matthew 22:39, Bond accused the church of failing to love its neighbor and drew a parallel between St. Timothy’s legal aid clinic — calling it a business — and his own inability to run a commercial welding operation out of his home. The church shouldn’t be able to operate its legal clinic in a residential area, he said.
“The neighborhood has had nothing but problems with the activities that have happened at the church and they took their problems to the City Council,” Bond said Tuesday. “That was their only way of dealing with it and here we are.”
The Brookings Planning Commission voted 4-2-1 to deny St. Timothy’s appeal against a Brookings abatement notice threatening to fine the church up to $720 per day for its community outreach programs. Commissioners Gerald Wulkowicz and Cody Coons dissented.
Commissioner Ray “Skip” Hunter, who had recused himself from the discussion when the church’s appeal came before him and his colleagues on June 27, abstained from voting on Tuesday.
Hunter said he had helped St. Timothy personnel feed the needy in the past and had recused himself and stepped out of the June 27 meeting on the advice of City Attorney Lori Cooper. On Tuesday, he said he wanted to stay and vote on the appeal and asked his colleagues to decide whether he could participate.
“I think I can continue in an unbiased way,” Hunter said. “I read everything in (the agenda packet). I’ll reiterate my point. I didn’t miss the meeting last time; I was told I couldn’t stay.”
Cooper, who denied telling Hunter to leave the June meeting, said her advice was that a commissioner could still influence a decision by participating in the discussion even if he or she abstained from voting.
Hunter’s colleague, Clayton Malmberg, said Hunter shouldn’t be able to vote on Tuesday because he didn’t hear the public’s testimony or the Planning Commission’s discussion.
“You didn’t hear the same evidence everyone else heard,” Malmberg told Hunter. “I probably wouldn’t have recused myself, I don’t think that’s good advice, but my concern is we’re all voting based on the same input and material, and today is a continuance with some additional evidence that’s (been) provided.”
Brookings’ April 14 abatement notice threatened to fine St. Timothy up to $720 per day for operating a “benevolent meal service” without a permit. The city also took issue with the church’s day program, which includes offering showers to the needy, providing a place for the unhoused to charge their phone and access the internet as well as access to legal aid and other services, which the city says is not allowed in a residential area.
In his June 27 report to the Planning Commission, Public Works Director Tony Baron stated the church predates the Brookings Land Development Ordinance, which was adopted in 1989 and therefore was considered a legal non-conforming use at the time. In 1999, the Planning Commission issued a conditional use permit to St. Timothy, which added 392 square feet to its building as well as eight new parking spaces.
Baron said Brookings officials became aware of the church’s programs, in particular its legal aid service, as part of the discovery phase of the federal lawsuit St. Timothy has filed against the city. The public works director challenged St. Timothy’s argument that its programs are part of a church’s typical functions and they didn’t have to seek city permission.
The church’s pastor, Reverend Bernie Lindley, said an ordained member of the church staff, Cora Rose, is an attorney and a member of the Oregon State Bar. Providing legal assistance to “people who cannot get it any other way” is part of Rose’s ministry, Lindley told the Wild Rivers Outpost.
“It’s recognized by her Deaconess community in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America,” Lindley said. “It’s absolutely her ministry to provide legal aid for free to people who can’t afford it.”
Lindley told the Outpost that Rose is a paid member of church staff but her ministry offers legal aid to people for free.
Bond said the city discovered Lindley was “operating a business, specifically legal services” through a deposition taken as part of St. Timothy’s lawsuit. Neither party’s attorney could provide documentation that legal services are provided at other churches, Bond said.
Bond also referred to Oregon House Bill 3501 without specifically stating its name. Proposed by Beaverton Democrat Farrah Chaichi and Portland Democrat Khanh Pham, HB 3501 would have allowed homeless people to sue for $1,000 if harassed or forced to move from a camping spot. The bill lacked the support to move further in the legislative process, the Oregonian reported in June.
Bond on Tuesday erroniousuly stated that legislators approved the proposed law.
“There was no documentation anywhere, provided by either attorney or provided anywhere else that states legal services are provided at any other church,” Bond said. “I find that curious, especially since Oregon passed a recent law that states the homeless may sue anybody harassing them for any reason. People who run the church and don’t live in the community would be able to provide legal services for that cause. I really have a problem with that.”
Bond said if the church operated its legal aid clinic elsewhere, outside a residential zone, he’d “be more than willing to support it.”
In a July 3 letter, Lindley stated that the church is near Azalea Park, which is an area the unhoused uses to find rest.
“Un-housed folks utilize Azalea Park because it contains one of the only public bathrooms,” Lindley said in his letter. “The bathrooms at the other city parks are kept locked as well as the bathroom near Mill Beach.”
Wulkowicz, who voted against denying St. Timothy’s appeal, noted that it’s up to him and his colleagues to provide clarity as to what a church is as defined in the Brookings Municipal Code and what it can and can’t do.
“My impression is that I don’t think the City Council, when it passed the Municipal Code, had any inkling of having any restrictions placed on the church as long as it was doing community service,” Wulkowicz told his colleagues. “The Planning Commission, when it issued the conditional use permit for expansion of the church, probably didn’t think that either, so I feel that an abatement order is not warranted.”
When asked about the city's process for fining the church, Baron told the Outpost that the Planning Commission will issue a final order at its next meeting, which is scheduled for the first Tuesday of September. Planning Commissioners likely won't take another vote on the matter at that meeting, however, according to Baron.
Lindley said it’s possible the St. Timothy may appeal the Planning Commission’s decision first to the City Council and then to the Oregon Land-Use Board of Appeals.
St. Timothy’s filed its federal lawsuit against Brookings in January 2022 after the City Council approved an ordinance three months earlier requiring charitable organizations to apply for “benevolent meal service” permits. Those permits restrict applicants to holding two meal services per week.
That ordinance was in response to a petition from residents living near St. Timothy’s, whose concerns included criminal trespassing, theft, harassment, drug possession, littering, disorderly conduct, physical altercations and child abuse.
However, after it served the church with the abatement notice on April 14, 2023, stating that “significant public safety problems remain,” Baron didn’t provide any recent examples of residents’ concerns. In response to the Outpost, Baron sent a copy of a June 7, 2021, agenda packet, which contained the April 2021 petition against St. Timothy’s signed by 29 residents.