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Court rules in favor of Calvary Baptist

After a four-year fight, a half-acre parcel on Burroughs Street will be rezoned by order of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

 The court this week ruled unanimously in favor of Calvary Baptist Church, which has wracked up an estimated $100,000 in legal fees to be paid by the city of Morgantown.

Justice Margaret Workman delivered the court’s opinion, which supported Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Susan Tucker’s 2018 ruling that the city’s handling of the church’s zoning request was unconstitutional. 

Workman writes, “The statements tend to show the Church is being treated differently than other property owners when it is seeking a proposed use that is not inconsistent with uses and results already present in the area.” 

The issue dates back to 2016, when the church sought to divide its property and sell off a half-acre in order to finance sanctuary repairs.

 Bernie Bossio agreed to purchase the newly created parcel if it was rezoned from R-1 (residential) to B-2 (business service).

Bossio, who’s developed a number of properties in that area, didn’t foresee an issue. The parcel has Burroughs Plaza (B-2) to one side, the church building (R-1) on the other and the Wine Bar (B-2) across the street.

The city previously rezoned the Wine Bar parcel from R-1 to PRO (professional), then later to B-2, at Bossio’s request.

 “I was totally flabbergasted when the planning commission recommended denial to city council,” Bossio said, explaining this was the first of two efforts at rezoning, both of which were ultimately voted down by city council at the recommendation of the planning commission.

“So I still have this question in my mind. Why was the city in such opposition to the rezoning of this property? Honestly, I feel as though there was something else in the works there, but I have no idea what,” Bossio said. “But it was clear to Judge Tucker and the supreme court that the city was going out of its way to deny this.” 

So the church filed suit with Bossio covering the legal fees. He explained, “I agreed to pay because I was shocked the city would go to this extent to drag this out.” 

In her November 2018 ruling, Tucker took the city to task in declaring the denials unconstitutional.

“The Court is at a loss as to why the City would go to such lengths to deny Calvary’s two re-zoning requests,” Tucker wrote. “Although no explanation was given nor requested, it is clear to this Court from the totality of the evidence that the City was determined to deny the requests both times and relied on arbitrary and capricious reasons to accomplish its desired outcome.” 

Bossio said he’s frustrated that the city dragged the process out so long and that taxpayers are now on the hook for at least $100,000 in attorney’s fees for what seemed an obvious request.

“I think most people would look at that property and say, ‘Wait a second. Who’s going to build a residential house facing onto Burroughs Street.’ It just doesn’t make any sense. You’re between a church, a plaza and across the street from a wine bar. It doesn’t make sense,” he said.

 Representatives for the city of Morgantown did not wish to comment for this report.

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