America the Messy Yard Police State
Why on earth are churches illegal in industrial areas?OK I am an atheist and think religion is nothing but superstition. But still what part of the First Amendment don't these government tyrants in Glendale understand? On the other hand I guess if you want to flush the First Amendment down the toilet the easiest way to do it is with lame ass zoning laws - "Glendale doesn't allow churches in industrial areas"
Why on earth are churches illegal in industrial areas? Or does the law only apply to churches the government nannies in Glendale don't approve of?
Church's path to God blocked by Glendale's zoning code
Hector Mendoza walked into the little church with a gun tucked into his pants. It was part of the uniform for a guy like Hector who was, to put it nicely, no choir boy.
He was more into gangbangers than Bible thumpers. At 26, he was going through life armed not with the word of God but with an AK-47, two shotguns and a pistol, none of which were registered to him. His drugs of choice: crystal meth and cocaine.
Then came that day in 2001, when he was invited to a church called The Potter's House.
“I came in just looking,” he said. “You know how we all come looking for a church just to kind of feel good a little bit maybe or our conscience feels a little dirty … When I came in that first morning, I really liked it. Then I came back that night and the pastor had me come to the front to pray what we call the sinner's prayer. When I prayed that prayer, something spiritually happened. I felt like a heavy load off of me.”
What happened to Hector Mendoza that night might be called a miracle of sorts. Now, it seems another may be needed for church where Mendoza and others like him have found salvation.
The Potter's House Christian Fellowship Center has been shut down by the city of Glendale. Under a cease-and-desist order issued April 26, the church's pastor, the Rev. James Martinez, could be cited and thrown into jail if he returns to the sanctuary.
Simply put: Glendale doesn't allow churches in industrial areas and even if it did, Martinez's church doesn't meet city safety standards.
The city has offered to help him find another location but so far, Martinez hasn't found anything in the area that can accommodate his 180-member congregation.
“Where am I going to go?” he asked. “They didn't even give me time to find a building.”
Martinez, 49, was once like Mendoza. He grew up in a part of Chandler where prison was a rite of passage and drugs a part of the package. His low point came when he was 29 and barefoot, having sold all he owned for cocaine. Worse than losing his clothes, he says, was losing people who cared about him, people who gave up on him. Knowing there had to be a better way, he stumbled into a church and found it.
He was saved that day and a decade later felt the call to begin his own ministry in Glendale. He and his wife, Christine, began passing out fliers and holding services in their living room. Bit by bit, the little church grew as it reached into Glendale's roughest neighborhoods and hardest hearts. It grew so much that it outgrew the Martinezes' living room and its first building. Late last year, the church moved into a former paint plant at 54th Avenue and Missouri.
The congregation spent $25,000 on upgrades, pulling down chain-link stalls and building a platform for services and such. When the fire marshal showed up this spring to inspect what he thought was an empty building, he found a thriving church. And shut it down.
Fire Marshal Chuck Jenkins said the improvements were made without permits and inspections and the building doesn't meet safety standards for a church. Even if Martinez wanted to upgrade, he can't because the city wants him out.
“We think it's not safe for him and his congregation,” explained Jon Froke, Glendale's planning and zoning director. “Conversely, we have adjacent property owners and business owners that are trying to conduct and run businesses.”
Among those businesses is a drive-in theater, yet there are apparently no safety concerns about its location, a block from the church. The city says a theater is an allowable use, while a church is strictly forbidden.
That raises the eyebrows of Daniel Blomberg, of the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group. “Why are they going to allow a drive-in movie theater but not a church?” he asked.
The church's landlord is also skeptical. “Of all the hassle with (Senate Bill) 1070, the last thing Arizona needs to kick out Hispanic churches,” said Chuck Byers, the property manager.
As for Martinez, he isn't itching for a fight. He's a rules-are-rules kind of guy and besides, he just wants to get back to saving souls. Every weekend, church members go out to some of Glendale's toughest areas, offering up hotdogs and holy talk, reaching people where they live and offering them a path to God.
A path that is blocked, for the moment, by the Glendale's zoning code. Martinez is willing to move if he must. But he wants to stay in the area and he needs to find a place. Soon.
“I just want to reach these people,” he said.
People like Mendoza, now a pastor in Avondale. And like Steve Cañez, who came to the church 3½ years ago, after getting out of prison -- for the second time -- on weapons violations.
“My homeboys were coming around. I was already beginning to get into the drug scene again,” he said. “One Saturday morning, the church came and knocked on my door and told me about a different way of life.”
Cañez, 38, says the church has worked a miracle in his life and in the hearts and lives of other friends and family since then and yet there are so many still to save.
“What's going to happen,” he said, “if we can't find a place to go to worship?”