By Warren Richardson
ENGLEWOOD – With a simple piece of paper, the Englewood Church of the Nazarene’s legal challenge to a decision by the Sarasota County commissioners has been dismissed.
The voluntary dismissal of the lawsuit was filed Monday in the federal court in Tampa by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the attorney’s representing the church, locally known as Crosspoint Church.
The dismissal came after commissioners reversed their earlier decision from last November when they denied the church’s application for a special exception to the zoning code to allow the church to increase to 90 the number of students permitted at a school the church, located on Green Street, operates.
After a brief public hearing in June, commissioners voted 4-1, with Commissioner Mike Moran dissenting, to allow the church to proceed with its plans.
The dismissal of the lawsuit was in accordance with a settlement the Office of the County Attorney had reached with the Alliance earlier this year.
“We commend Sarasota County for changing course, approving Crosspoint’s zoning request, and reimbursing the church’s heavy application fee,” said Kyle McCutcheon, an Alliance attorney in a prepared statement issued after the notice of dismissal was filed.
Under the settlement terms, the county also agreed to reimburse the church almost $10,406 it paid in fees for the previous application, release the $40,000 in code enforcement liens for violations of the zoning code, and pay $20,000 in attorney fees to the Alliance.
In return, the church agreed to dismiss the lawsuit if commissioners reversed their earlier denial of the application.
The lawsuit filed claimed that the county was discriminating against the church and alleged the county had violated several federal and state statutes, and the First and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by denying the church’s request.
“The government can’t discriminate against churches or schools simply because they are religious,” Alliance Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb said in the same prepared statement. “Sarasota County’s response to our lawsuit benefits the school’s students and their parents, who deserve continued access to the high-quality education they have already chosen. The county did the right thing in correcting its discriminatory practices and offering Crosspoint Church an equal playing field.”
The county attorney’s office declined to comment on the dismissal.