'Leapfrog Development' Defense Fails To Hurdle Imposition Of Substantial Burdens

Monday, December 03, 2018 6:30 am
December 2018 - Volume 46 Number 12

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit remained silent on any discriminatory intentions of Sutter County, California after the County denied a Sikh society permits to build a small temple on two separate occasions. However, the court did clearly state that the County’s actions constituted a substantial burden for members of the Guru Nanak Sikh Society of Yuba City (Guru Nanak).

Facts: Guru Nanak first attempted to obtain a conditional use permit (CUP) for the construction of a 5,000-square foot Sikh temple in 2001. The 1.89 acre property was in an area zoned for low-density residential use, one of six zoning categories in Sutter County that allows for the issuance of CUPs to churches. The Sutter County Planning Division recommended that the Planning Commission issue the CUP, but the commission unanimously denied permission after neighbors voiced fears about increased noise and traffic.

Following this first denial, Guru Nanak widened its search from residential areas and acquired a 28.79-acre property that fell under the zoning category for a general agricultural district--once again, one of the six zones where Sutter County churches could receive conditional approval. Guru Nanak shrunk the size of its proposed temple to 2,850 square feet and limited attendance of religious ceremonies to 75 people at a time. After various county and state departments reviewed the application, Guru Nanak also willingly accepted various environmental conditions including the establishment of a no-development buffer, a requirement that ceremonies stay indoors, and maintaining required landscaping. After an initial approval of the app[..]