CANTON — During a bank closing held Friday, Canton Christian Fellowship Center purchased The Club at 25 Court St. for $310,000, according to Jamie Sinclair, CFC pastor.
The three-story historic building is assessed at $250,000 and operated as a restaurant and tavern until it closed in July.
“It’s a great building with a lot of character, but it needs some TLC,” Mr. Sinclair said. “We’re going to fix the broken windows and have it repainted. Part of the way we’re going to bless Canton is to move in and take care of it well.”
After months of controversy, the village Zoning Board of Appeals is expected to vote Wednesday night on an application made by Mr. Sinclair to use the building for church services. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the lower portion of the municipal building, 60 Main St.
The building was purchased from Custmo Inc. LLC. The company’s president is Patricia Cassara, wife of Rick Cassara, a Canton businessman who ran The Club for about a decade.
ZBA Chairman Conrad Stuntz said he and other board members have been doing their own research related to questions raised by members of the public. They will also review a written analysis being prepared by Village Attorney Gerald J. Ducharme.
“There’s been research done across the board,” Mr. Stuntz said. “We’ve been evaluating what’s come up at the meetings.”
Dozens of community residents have attended prior village ZBA and Planning Board meetings. Several have said they want The Club to remain a restaurant and not removed from the property tax rolls. Others have expressed support for the church’s plans.
Mr. Stuntz would not disclose whether he thinks CFC’s proposal violates the village’s zoning code and should be denied by the ZBA.
“I’m still weighing all the options,” he said.
The village Planning Board forwarded the request to the ZBA, deciding it couldn’t rule on the application until the ZBA gave a recommendation on whether a church should be allowed in the Commercial-1 district.
The district allows educational, philanthropic, fraternal, charitable and social organizations, but does not identify churches as an allowed use. Mr. Sinclair and his supporters argue that a church should fall within those categories and not allowing it violates a federal law passed in 2000, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
Mr. Ducharme said the RLUIPA law has prompted legal challenges in municipalities across the country.
“It’s an interesting law. It has engendered a lot of communication and court cases,” Mr. Ducharme said.
He said his written memo to the ZBA will address four main provisions in the RLUIPA law for the board to consider.
“I don’t know that I’ll give them a recommendation either way. At this point my intent is to try my best to make sure the relevant issues are addressed,” Mr. Ducharme said.
Mr. Sinclair said he understands that the ZBA’s hands may be tied because when the zoning code was revised several years ago, the board intentionally removed churches from the C-1 district, deciding that the lot spaces were too small for churches. The existing, older churches within the C-1 zone were grandfathered in so they are allowed to stay.
“I hope they can find a way to say yes, but I’m not sure if they are legally able to,” he said.
If the ZBA turns down the application, Mr. Sinclair said he will pursue another avenue, possibly seeking help from the village board. He also said the U.S. Department of Justice is interested in the situation.
“I’m very optimistic about the end result,” he said.