Owner of Brewer shopping center sues city over Rock Church’s move

Pastor Jim Fumari of The Rock Church in Brewer removes parts of a PVC pipe Easter canopy frame as he and parishioners clear church items from their City Center location in the North Brewer Shopping Center on Monday, March 26, 2012.
Pastor Jim Fumari of The Rock Church in Brewer removes parts of a PVC pipe Easter canopy frame as he and parishioners clear church items from their City Center location in the North Brewer Shopping Center on Monday, March 26, 2012.
Posted April 27, 2012, at 1:29 p.m.
Last modified April 27, 2012, at 5 p.m.
The Rock Church moved out of their City Center location in the North Brewer Shopping Center.
The Rock Church moved out of their City Center location in the North Brewer Shopping Center.

BANGOR, Maine — The owner of a Brewer shopping center has sued the city and its code enforcement officer over a church’s decision to move after being denied a building permit to expand.

Attorneys for Dana Cassidy, the owner of North Brewer Shopping Plaza, sued the city of Brewer and Ben Breadmore on Wednesday in U.S. District Court. In the complaint, Cassidy contended he has been harmed economically because the city’s land use regulations “treat the church unequally and discriminate against it on the basis of religion.”

Brewer allows funeral homes, theaters, clubhouses and clubs, community service organizations and private schools in the Convenience Business District, where the shopping center is located, according to the complaint. A church is not a permitted use.

That violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law, Cassidy’s attorney, Edmond Bearor of Bangor, said Friday.

Last month, Cassidy said that statute prevents the city from treating the church as a business.

The Rock Church of Greater Bangor Inc., located at 1195 Ohio St. in Bangor, began renting space in Cassidy’s North Main Street shopping center three years ago as a second location in which to hold worship services and other activities. Brewer granted building and occupancy permits for the space, according to the complaint.

Efforts to reach attorney Joel Dearborn, who represents Brewer, were unsuccessful Friday.

The building permit was signed in 2009 by the previous code enforcement officer. Breadmore signed the occupancy permit for the previous space in June 2011. The delay in issuing the occupancy permit apparently was due to the personnel change in the code enforcement office, Bearor said.

In February, church officials signed a new lease with Cassidy that would have more than tripled its space for services and other activities. The church’s building permit application was denied in a letter dated Feb. 17, 2012, and signed by Breadmore.

In the letter, the code enforcement officer called the church’s use of the building legal but nonconforming. Due to that, Breadmore wrote, the church could not legally expand at its current location.

The Brewer location combined its operation with the Bangor church again. The Rock Church plans to launch a capital campaign later this year to build a 350- to 370-seat auditorium near its Bangor location on Ohio Street, according to a previously published report.

The Rock Church was to have paid Cassidy $7,000 per month for a 14,000-square-foot space for four years, according to the complaint. The space it previously rented in the plaza was 4,500 square feet.

Cassidy is asking U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby, who has been assigned the case, to declare that Brewer’s Land Use Code is unlawfully written. The shopping center owner is seeking compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and litigation costs.

Attorneys for the city and Breadmore have 21 days after they are served with the complaint to file answers in federal court in Bangor.

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