The Minturn Planning Commission will hear an appeal on Tuesday from a decision authorizing a redevelopment project in Block 100 Main Street.
The appellant objected to the creation of a ritual bath called a mikvah at the rear of the property for use by members of the nonprofit Chabad Vail, a local religious organization.
The town planner found the mikveh part of the development to meet the definition of a club, which is allowed under the city code. The property is zoned in the Old Town 100 Block Commercial Zone District, and the properties there were effectively part of the Old Town.
The property under redevelopment, located at 151 Main Street, is occupied by The Uptown Store, which sells gifts and accessories and incorporates the building’s 100-year history into its boutique tradition. The Uptown store has been around for over a decade, and during that time the family who owned this building and several other properties in the area sold the units to the local branch of the Morgan Reed Group in a multi-stakeholder transaction. millions of dollars.
The Uptown store remained for years after the deal, but the property changed hands again in 2021 and is now set to be demolished as part of the redevelopment project. In addition to the mikvah, the project would also involve the creation of a ground / street level commercial space facing Main Street.
The town planning commission decides on appeal; a special meeting is set for Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Club or church?
The appellant, Kelly Toon, a resident of Minturn, is a local architect who also opposed the demolition of the building formerly occupied by the Mountain Pedaler bike store in 2019.
“Anyone who says old buildings are too far away to save has obviously never worked a single day of construction in their life,” Toon said. “I think this is a totally missed opportunity for the developers. I don’t think they understand what the Minturn community thinks about downtown. They should have done all their research on who we are, what we want, what we believe in and our pride in our buildings, our heritage, our charm, our character and our history. They have no respect for any of these things.
Citing section 16-3-60 of the city code and Wikipedia, Toon, in his appeal, said that a mikvah looks more like a church than a club.
“This type of use in the downtown landscape would be detrimental to surrounding businesses as well as the vibrancy of the entire community,” Toon said.
Citing section 16-2-20 of the city code and the Oxford Dictionary, Chabad representative Vail said the best definition of what they were doing would be a club.
“The existing commercial space facing Main Street would be reconstructed in the same manner and on the back part of the lot would be a ‘mikvah’, which is a ritual bathing space for men and women,” said Kyle H. Webb with KHWebb Architects.
Section 16-2-20 of the City Code states that “Church means a building or structure, or groups of buildings or structures, which by design and construction are primarily intended for the conduct of services. religious organizations and associated ancillary uses ”, while“ Club refers to any non-profit organization. organization exclusively serving members and their guests with limited facilities for meeting, catering and leisure purposes; and furthermore, whose activities are not carried out primarily for monetary gain.
The city code 16-3-60 indicates that churches are not part of the permitted uses in the Old Town Character Zone district.
In his determination that a mikvah is more like a club than a church, planning director Scot Hunn said in a note: “Unlike a church or a synagogue, a mikvah is not designed. to accommodate large groups of people or for services or other large gatherings. Rather, a mikvah should have much lower and sporadic visit rates or use on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, similar to a club.
The question of the law on the use of land for religious purposes and institutionalized persons, and whether it is applicable in this case, has also been considered by lawyers at the request of Minturn.
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, better known as RLUIPA, was passed in 2000 with the aim of prohibiting the government from imposing burdens or denying equal conditions to people. applicants for the use of land for religious purposes.
“The law has led to a significant number of federal civil rights claims over the past two decades, mainly against local governments,” Karp Neu Hanlon’s lawyers said in a note to the city. “If a non-religious use is allowed in an area district, but a similar religious use is not, the land use regulation is against RLUIPA. “
Lawyers for Robinson & Cole, LLP, said that while maximizing revenue and revitalizing the downtown core have proven to be legitimate zoning criteria for comparing religious and non-religious uses, a municipality should be careful not to treat some non-profit institutions better than religious institutions.
“For example, in one case, two Orthodox Jewish groups sought to establish themselves in the commercial area of the city, sued the city and won because social clubs, lodges and theaters were allowed in the city. area, but religious uses were prohibited, ”Robinson & Cole lawyers said in a note to the city. “In this case, the city did not have a compelling interest to justify different treatment because” (l) the offered retail synergy interests are not pursued against analogous non-religious conduct, and such interests could be achieved by narrower ordinances which do not unduly distinguish between similar lay and religious assemblies.