Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023 @ 3:59 p.m. / Community, Local Government

Brookings City Council Upholds City's Abatement Order Against St. Timothy's Outreach Programs

St. Timothy's. | Photos provided by Bernie Lindley.


Brookings Councilors Delay St. Timothy's Abatement Notice Review; Church's Attorney Seeks to Address Zoning Issues

Brookings Planning Commission Denies St. Timothy's Appeal With One Member Calling the Church's Legal Aid Clinic A Business


Before one of their new members urged residents to support local churches “for helping to meet the needs of Brookings residents,” the City Council upheld an abatement order against St. Timothy Episcopal Church on Monday.

The order threatens to fine the church up to $720 per day for operating a day program and legal clinic and providing case worker assistance and advocacy at its 401 Fir Street property, which is in a single-family residential area near Azalea Park.

The church’s pastor, Reverend Bernie Lindley, said he expected the outcome, though he hoped that some of three new members on the City Council would have offered some support.

Lindley was also surprised that the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent statement of interest in the church’s federal lawsuit targeting the city’s benevolent meal service ordinance didn’t sway the new City Council.

“It seemed pretty persuasive to me,” he said.

St. Timothy Episcopal Church will now turn to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals for help, Lindley said.

“I guess we’ll take it one step at a time,” he said. “Because I don’t see how we don’t prevail in the end.”

City Councilors voted 4-0-1 to affirm the Planning Commission’s Sept. 5 final order denying St. Timothy’s appeal of the April 14, 2023 abatement notice. One of the new Councilors, Phoebe Pereda, abstained, saying she didn’t have enough time to review information the church’s attorney and the city’s own legal counsel included in the staff report.

Pereda and her colleagues Kristi Fulton and Clayton Malmberg were appointed to fill vacancies left behind by former Mayor Ron Hedenskog and former councilors Michelle Morosky and Ed Schreiber, who were recalled on Nov. 7.

Malmberg was on the Brookings Planning Commission and in August and September had voted in favor of denying St. Timothy’s appeal of the abatement notice. On Monday, Malmberg disclosed that he was on the Planning Commission, but felt he could make an unbiased decision.

“I don’t have skin in the game one way or the other,” he said. “I can take information from different resources that are provided and make a conscious decision.”

Malmberg provided the second to Council President Andy Martin’s motion to affirm the Planning Commission’s Sept. 5 decision.

“I think we spent a lot of time reviewing these papers,” Martin said. “For the people that weren’t up to speed on it, staff was available through the weekend. I think each of us had time to meet with the city attorney over this.”

The City Council decided to review the Planning Commission’s decision at the advice of their legal counsel, Lori Cooper. The original abatement notice had taken issue with the church operating its soup kitchen ministries in a residential area without a permit, but the city decided to suspend action against that program due to the federal lawsuit, Brookings Public Works Director Tony Baron told the Council on Oct. 23.

At that meeting, the public works director noted that the Brookings Municipal Code doesn’t define what constitutes a church or details what activities are “typical and/or allowed for this use.”

In his Oct. 23 report, Baron cited the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions of a church is to justify Brookings’ actions against St. Timothy.

Allison Reynolds, a land-use attorney representing St. Timothy’s, pointed out that nearly all of Brookings’ churches are in residential areas. The only exception is Faith Baptist Church, which is in a commercial zone.

When then-councilor and now-mayor Isaac Hodges pointed out that Brookings identifies different residential areas — a statement Baron backed up — Reynolds said the city’s staff report on Oct. 23 didn’t cite those differences and asked for a chance to address those issues.

In a letter to the city on Nov. 13, Reynolds references city staff’s use of the dictionary definition of "church" and "worship," but points out that the Merriam-Webster’s definition of "worship" — “as an act that honors or shows reverence for a divine being” — is broader.

Reynolds provided a spreadsheet of churches, including several in Brookings, offering food pantries, access to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, legal services and, in countless cases, dental services. Many of these churches are in single-family residential zones.

There is no evidence in the record that supports city staff’s narrow interpretation of worship, Reynolds stated in her Nov. 13 letter.

“One church leader called the services provided by St. Tim’s ‘core functions of the Christian faith,’” Reynolds stated. “Nativity Lutheran Church in Bend, Oregon stated ‘the ministry work done at site at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings is simply this: basic, orthodox, every day, historic Christian life.’ To interpret worship as narrowly as city staff does is ‘fundamentally antithetical to the values and practices’ of churches.”

In her rebuttal to Reynolds’ letter, Cooper stated that the churches Reynolds point to don’t provide the same types of services St. Timothy’s provides and if they do, they’re not located in residential zones.

Cooper also argued that there is a lack of evidence that shows “the intensity, frequency and scope of services provided by these other churches or whether these churches have obtained conditional use permits and, if so, what conditions have been placed on these uses to mitigate impacts.”

The examples Reynolds produced, including other churches holding Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, youth video tournaments and parent support groups tend to be held once or twice a week “or even less often,” Cooper said. Yet those details aren’t included in the evidence St. Timothy’s provides, she said.

Cooper also pointed out that many of the social services St. Timothy’s provides were adopted years after the city adopted its land-use rules in 1989 and after it received a modification to a “de-facto” conditional use permit in 1999.

“There is not substantial evidence in the record that a ‘church’ use under the [Brookings Municipal Code] necessarily includes ‘social services’ like the social services which [St. Timothy’s] currently provides,” Cooper states. “In addition, there is not substantial evidence in the record that St. Timothy’s has continually provided social services, or if it did, not at the same scope, intensity and frequency, as part of its de facto conditional use and since it obtained a modification to its CUP in 1999.”

Though Cooper advised City Councilors on Monday that they couldn’t take public comment into consideration when deciding whether or not to uphold the abatement order, several spoke out in support of St. Tim’s.

Alex Carr-Frederick referred to the church’s federal lawsuit against the City of Brookings and its contention that the city’s benevolent meal service ordinance violated the church’s religious freedom.

Though she urged Malmberg to recuse himself from the Council’s deliberations due to his previous position as a planning commissioner, Frederick asked the new City Councilors if they had time to review the documents associated with both the abatement notice and the federal lawsuit.

“Do you know or care what the strength of the church’s legal position is or what it might be?” Carr-Frederick asked. “I’ve got a spoiler alert: The U.S. Department of Justice says it’s pretty goddamn good.”

Teresa Lawson, one of 14 people who applied for a position on the City Council, brought up the city’s financial position in connection with the church’s lawsuit. She said she read city staff’s report on the abatement notice and noted that they state the financial impact to the city “is nothing.”

Lawson said she was concerned that the Council’s decision on Monday could create more legal and financial liability for the city.

“It was referenced earlier about the Department of Justice weighing in,” she said. “And if anybody thinks a statement of interest is a mild thing from the Department of Justice, it’s not. They’re serious. We’ve gotten the attention of the big guys and they came down on the side of St. Tim’s.”

Lawson said she was concerned that the attorney in her Dec. 7 rebuttal to St. Timothy’s position didn’t mention the Department of Justice’s statement of interest, which was issued Nov. 21.

It was Fulton, who, at the end of the meeting, urged residents to give back to the community this holiday season despite her vote against St. Timothy’s.

“Our community is very generous,” she said. “Look to the Lion’s Club for a gift for grandparents. The Elks Lodge fod basket drive, Coos-Curry Electric’s holiday goody bags for the kids, the Community Helpers food bank and, of course, all of our local churches [who are] helping to meet the needs of Brookings residents for the holidays and throughout the year.”


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