A local church’s lawsuit against Scottsdale that pitted issues of religious freedom against calls for neighborhood preservation could be settled next week.
The Scottsdale City Council is tentatively scheduled on May 8 to consider a proposed settlement with SonRise Community Church over the council’s refusal to grant a permit for a religious school on a 9-acre parcel at 29505 N. Scottsdale Road.
City Councilman Jim Lane said he’s open-minded about the possibility of settling the lawsuit, which city attorneys say could cost $350,000 if it goes to trial.
“Under the right terms and conditions, I’d certainly consider it,” Lane said.
The council rejected the church’s permit application because of resident claims that the school would be incompatible with the neighborhood and increase traffic in the area unreasonably, creating a safety hazard.
Jim Williams, SonRise’s former senior pastor who said the church’s land is “holy” and that God called on the congregation to establish a church and school there, earlier this year moved to England, according to a church representative.
The Scottsdale-based Christian advocacy group Alliance Defense Fund provides the church with legal representation. Its lawyers have argued the council’s denial of the permit amounted to an abridgement of the church’s rights to free speech, religion, assembly and due process, according to the legal complaint.
In a response filed with the court, city officials denied violating the church’s constitutional rights.
The settlement proposal calls on the council to overturn its previous vote to reject the permit and allow the church to build its school, with a number of restrictions, including:
• Limiting enrollment to 800 students, from preschool through eighth grade.
• Scrapping the originallyproposed schoolhouse and dividing it into two smaller buildings, one containing classrooms and offices and the other a 330-seat basketball gym and assembly area.
• Constructing the parking lot with a material that resembles soil of the surrounding area and screening it with a wall.
• Staggering student dropoff times and having parents sign agreements requiring them to drop off students in the interior of the property.
In exchange, the church would get an additional 1,066 square feet of classroom space and an extra eight parking spots.
City spokesman Pat Dodds said discussion of the proposed settlement could be postponed because of a heavy council agenda.
“There has been some interest on the council in moving it to another date,” he said.
SonRise’s congregation first came together in 1995. In 1999, the group bought land south of the intersection of Scottsdale Road and Dixileta Drive to build a church and a private school to be called Constitution Christian Academy, according to the church’s federal court complaint.
Since the land is zoned for single-family homes, the church had to apply for a city permit to establish a school there.