The Salvation Army would need to get a special use permit for land it wants to use to at the corner of McCain Boulevard and North Locust Street, according to a Sept. 10 letter from North Little Rock City Attorney Jason Carter to Mayor Patrick Hays.
Hays’ made the letter public when the North Little Rock Council met in its last regularly scheduled meeting of Sept. 10.
"This letter is written in response to your questions regarding the use of property located on the northeast corner of the intersection of McCain Boulevard and North Locust Street by the Salvation Army," Carter said.
Carter told the mayor that according to city maps, the area is zoned R-4 residential, designating it as a multi-family district that is designed to protect the residential character of the area by prohibiting non-residential uses, promoting a neighborhood environment, and maintaining open areas.
"Nevertheless, some non-residential uses are permitted in R-4 zones as serving a complimentary rule to the neighborhood," Carter said. "Relevant to the question at hand, churches and places of worship are permitted in R-4 zones."
Carter also pointed out to the mayor that a federal law exists known as the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act of 2000 prohibits local governments from imposing land-use regulations in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution differently than a non-religious assembly or institution.
"Thus, in analyzing the proposed location, the law requires the city to ignore the religious nature of the Salvation Army and solely impose its regulations based upon the reasonably-anticipated activities," according to Carter.
Carter said the Salvation Army has played an invaluable role in North Little Rock for many years.
"Their familiar programs reach out to those who are in need with regular food and clothing distribution as well as other activities," Carter said. "These regular distribution activities are beyond the scope of traditional neighborhood zoning. In order to lawfully engage in these functions, the Salvation Army would be required to obtain a special use permit from City Council."
Carter encouraged other city officials to review North Little Rock’s ordinances and see if they comply with the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.
"I suggest that the zoning classification of ‘Churches and/or Places of Worship’ be deleted and replaced with descriptive words that reflect activity in secular terms," Carter said. "In my estimation, this change would continue our city’s proud tradition of embracing the right of individuals to believe as they choose without encouragement or discouragement from the government."