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Pending lawsuit could have implications for RVing pavement overnighters

In a case with wide-reaching implications for RVers as well as religious organizations that are church property owners, a lawsuit, Reverend Paul Elder and The Christian Growth Center, Inc. v. City of Pueblo, Colorado, was filed on January 27, 2022, in Pueblo County District Court. The action resulted from a municipal code violation issued by the City of Pueblo that, in turn, resulted from a dispute between The Christian Growth Center, Inc., a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

The dispute began in 2021. For thirty years, the United Pentecostal Church hosted traveling evangelists. It provided RV parking for them, including water and sewer connections at its property, located at 1906 N Hudson Avenue in Pueblo. The city was fully aware of the practice and had approved the water, electrical, and sewer hookups under municipal code. However, in 2021, the city declared that the practice violated the municipal code. The Pueblo municipal police issued a code violation citation, which carried a potential criminal penalty for the church’s pastor, Paul Elder, and a possible $1,000 fine for each day that the church continued to provide its roving evangelists with the RV spot.

Initially, the matter appeared to be another local dispute, pitting a municipal government against a private property owner. It has become a U.S. federal case concerning laws that restrict government land use actions if such actions impose an undue burden upon religious exercise.

Allegations in the complaint

In its complaint in Elder, the plaintiff alleged that the City of Pueblo, CO, violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by imposing a “substantial burden on the religious exercise of a…religious assembly or institution….”

The complaint further states that the government’s action violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In addition to the statutory and constitutional issues, the lawsuit asserts that the city government has selectively and arbitrarily enforced its zoning code. The City of Pueblo declined to cite a violation during the thirty years that the Christian Growth Center, Inc. carried on the practice of hosting the traveling evangelists. Other churches in the Pueblo area also allow RV parking and have installed RV hookups at their sites. During that time, Pastor Elder, on behalf of The Christian Growth Center, applied for and received city building code permits for all RV electrical, water, and sewer facilities.

Defendant’s response

In its response, the defendant, City of Pueblo, CO, has denied all of the allegations in the church’s complaint but, for the most part, has thus far declined to put forth an affirmative defense on the main substantive issues.



The church stated in court documents that banning the RV ministry would impose a substantial burden by forcing the traveling ministers to use commercial RV campground facilities that would be paid for by themselves or by the church, and that such an alternative would dramatically limit the ability of the RV evangelists to carry out their ministry.

Elder, et al., v. City of Pueblo, CO, could turn out to be a significant case, not just for churches or mobile RVer evangelists, but for any RVer who might occasionally spend the night in a church parking lot, and for RV dwellers who receive church charity assistance in the form of temporary RV parking.

The case also has implications concerning the greater issue of government overreach in banning parking on private residential lands and on commercial facilities such as Walmart, Cabela’s, Cracker Barrel, and other businesses that commonly allow overnight RV parking.

Stay tuned, as RVtravel.com will monitor the progress of this now-federal legal dispute as it grinds its way through the courts.

Related:

The Walmart of the future may not include overnight RV parking

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Robert Halleran
1 month ago

So the city has a poorly thought out law on the books. Someone complained and they are required to investigate and cite. Having issued permits for all the fixturing for the practice, they have shot their policy defense in the foot. How much time and tax will be wasted before someone moves to at least temporarily remove the law pending a rethink?

CO Pat
1 month ago

Seems there maybe a bigger issue overlooked in these comments. Some pastors are starting to use church property, and in particular parking lots, to set up homeless camps, whether it be in unsafe, old RVs or igloo style tents. See Park Hill Church in Denver. This enforcement of an old ordinance is getting ahead of an emerging trend and problem. It isn’t always them against us.

Michael Galvin, PhD
1 month ago

Government should not subsidize religion.

KellyR
1 month ago

Oh, now I get it: “I believe in the freedom of religion / camping / etc. — but not in my back yard.”

BILLY Bob Thronton
1 month ago

Sue the City into oblivion. Nothing gets a bunch of libs more worked up than standing up to them, and bringing it.

Eric
1 month ago

Maybe you should be commenting on a political website? Seems to me that most RV’ers want to escape from idiot partisanship.

Last edited 1 month ago by Eric
Tom
1 month ago
Reply to  Eric

It’s because the real govt war is on religion,and the right to assemble , anybody with 1 eye open can see that.
Soon they will want to shut down the exemption of churches , it’s call the constitution

Michael Galvin, PhD
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom

Yes, tax the churches. Especially when they get into politics.

Dewey Proctor
1 month ago

Remember the phrase, “Separation of church and state”?

Thomas Souther
1 month ago
Reply to  Dewey Proctor

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I can’t find the phrase “separation of church and state” in there anywhere.

Bill g
1 month ago

I am a dem and I don’t have a problem parking on church property. The city needs to butt out. The other fellow was right it’s not a right/left, go to a polictal site. *****

Bob M
1 month ago

The trouble with our government officals is they use our taxpayer dollars to fight us in court and most of the cost may be covered by insurance except the deductible. Then everyone complains about rules and enforcement. Then vote for the same politicians instead of holding them accountable and voting them out.

David
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob M

It’s the law on the books that need changing.

Bill g
1 month ago
Reply to  David

Why they been doin it for 30 yrs, past practices

fishybiker
1 month ago
Reply to  Bill g

they got grandfather rights cause been doing so long

Marc
1 month ago

This just another reason to show up and be part of EVERY public city & county commissioner’s Meetings. Just because it is local does not mean these political leaders, Do Not have there own agenda… You must take time to watch them.

Tommy Molnar
1 month ago

It seems like ALL governments, from towns, cities, counties, states, and finally, the fed are just getting power-hungry and want to control every facet of our lives. I don’t see the issue in this story.

BILLY Bob Thronton
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

READ THE TENTH AMENDMENT. How many times will it take to establish a DOCTRINE, to teach the Federal Government they have NO JURISDICTION IN States Matters. Want proof, see upcoming June SCOTUS decisions.

1st one; No State Gov’t (NY) has authority over the Constitution (2nd Amendment)
2nd one; Roe v. Wade will be over ruled because IT’S NOT IN THE CONSTITUTION.

Best part, libs will go crazy. Better part, elections have consequence, LOL.

Bill g
1 month ago

I guess women will lose their right to vote, it’s not in the constitution, blacks, or any other minority also. Geez I think that’s what my fellow white males wants

Dennis
1 month ago
Reply to  Bill g

I believe the 15th and 19th amendments to the Constitution cover your concerns with voting. There are avenues to create changes to the Constitution or to create legal “Constitutional” laws. Not one of those avenues are through the judicial branch.

In this particular matter there is plenty of precedence to side for the church.

Ellen
1 month ago

See Fry vs. US: “While the Tenth Amendment has been characterized as a ‘truism,’ stating merely that ‘all is retained which has not been surrendered,’ [citing Darby], it is not without significance. The Amendment expressly declares the constitutional policy that Congress may not exercise power in a fashion that impairs the States’ integrity or their ability to function effectively in a federal system.”

We must not only respect what the Constitution says, but what the Court has decided in cases brought to it which clarify what the Constitution says.

Silas Longshot
1 month ago

This particular case smells much like some leftist liberal government ****** with a thing about Christians (& this church in particular) trying to give them a hard time as a personal grudge. Why else would the city suddenly reverse everything they’ve allowed for 30 years? I suggest the church’s lawyers research exactly who it was that complained or changed the ordinance to spark this situation. There will be your culprit and counter-lawsuit target.

Last edited 1 month ago by RV Staff
BILLY Bob Thronton
1 month ago
Reply to  Randall Brink

Imagine that! A lefty wanting to impose his/her will, as if it was his city.

Mot
1 month ago
Reply to  Randall Brink

Ahhh but who was the high$$$ contributor to the mayor’s campaign??

Bill g
1 month ago
Reply to  Silas Longshot

*****, the left could care less, your just an agitator

Billinois
1 month ago

Our town operates on a “complaint basis”, according to the building code inspector. They generally look the other way until someone complains. I wanted to keep my motorhome in our side yard, on a concrete pad and plant hedges so it would be less visible from the street. The inspector told me most likely neighbors across the street (no names mentioned) would complain. Since my rig is 2 feet longer than the ordinance permits, they would have to cite me if that happened. He was not encouraging.
I will say if storage rates keep climbing I may have to fight this, already paying too much. Illinois charges a 9% “parking” tax which applies to storage lots as well as city parking facilities.

Bill L
1 month ago
Reply to  Billinois

Laws/Rules are put in place for a reason. Commercial storage fee’s are not a defense for code violations. Before you bought the RV, you should have researched the issue at hand. Stop being entitled. Being entitled is a growing
Problem. You are wrong!
The church is in violation of a ordinance, here again, they need to stop being entitled, and stop the religion entitled bull! Two wrongs don’t make it a right. If you disagree reread the first sentence. Better yet take your entitlement to another country.

Stephen Malochleb
1 month ago

We’ve all seen and heard lately how local governments make up rules as they go along. You own your property,pay your taxes, buy an RV and park it in your yard. The next thing they tell you you are violating a law that they passed. You can’t park that RV,TT,or 5er on your own property. You can’t have an unregistered car even if you are doing a restoration. You can’t do this,you can’t do that. I think many local government’s are sometimes way over-stepping their authority. If it’s your property and what you’re doing is not causing any hazards to the health and welfare of neighbors you should be left alone to life,liberty,and your pursuit of happiness.

Jim S.
1 month ago

In many suburban communities, city council members who want to “feel” important and needed, so they conjure up new ordinances to make it look like they’re doing work. An RVing owning family will always be small fraction of the total populous of any suburban city.

All it takes is one resident who doesn’t like RVs parked on a persons property or despises people who can afford one. Our present city ordinance is an RV or trailer asked be parked from the front facia wall of the house back.

David
1 month ago

So ,you don’t mind if I put up a chicken coup next to you.
The ordinances is to protect your property value.

Sailor Bill
1 month ago
Reply to  David

It’s OK with me, I live in a rural subdivision. You can have some of my goat cheese if I can have some of your eggs.

Chaya Rachel
1 month ago
Reply to  David

Chicken coops smell really really bad. My RV does not. Nor does it attract fleas and vermin.

Jeanne
1 month ago
Reply to  Chaya Rachel

Chicken coops smell bad only if the owner allows it. Chicken coops can be clean and sweet smelling if taken care of.

Robert Halleran
1 month ago
Reply to  Chaya Rachel

If the vermin to which you refer are the neighbor’s dogs, I will concede your point. If you’re going smaller then the skunk, raccoon and woodchuck we’re trapped under the trailer. Every winter we set an array of mouse traps in the RV and one memorable year we collected a flea infestation on the road. Our henhouse has not had any of these issues outside a brief battle with the raccoon.

gray
1 month ago
Reply to  David

Then you would have no objection if the city condemns your property under Eminent Domain rules and sells it to a corporate developer who will use it as part of a larger, higher value development with greatly increased valuation, that will result in much higher tax revenues for the city… to “protect property value,” as you say. The entire city will benefit from increased revenue. Only you and the few affected by Eminent Domain will be adversely affected… but then, are you? You got your money.
Don’t scoff. It has actually happened elsewhere.

Ed D.
1 month ago

WOW! They issue permits for Water, Sewer and Electric and then turn around and cite the Church, with violations for using the property for the purpose the permits were granted. Way to go Pueblo! I am not sure how this will play out in the Courts but I believe the Church will prevail eventually. At least that’s the way it should be!

G13
1 month ago
Reply to  Ed D.

Agree!

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