3/16/2017 11:24:00 AM County Board OK's ICBMN cemetery permit in special session
The Chisago County Board held a special session March 15 and voted 4-0 with Lora Walker absent, to authorize a permit for a new cemetery that had been denied 3-2 in December 2016. The two earlier yes votes were from Ben Montzka and Mike Robinson. The cemetery permit was for the The Islamic Community of Bosniaks of Minnesota.
The commissioners did not discuss the matter.
The 3 p.m. meeting was prefaced with legal counsel advising the Board to approve the Conditional Use Permit or face a lengthy, expensive court fight. Attorney Paul Reuvers was contracted to provide outside counsel so as to avoid any conflict-- and he said he had “no doubt” any claim in federal court (he was referring to a Department of Justice investigation under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act or RLUIPA filed by the cemetery applicant) will result in the county losing.
“It will be protracted and costs will roll up exponentially,” Reuvers added. He advised the commissioners to take three steps: suspend Roberts Rules of Order to put the denial back on the table, support a motion to reconsider and then vote to approve the Conditional Use Permit.
Commissioner George McMahon motioned for all three.
Commissioner Lora Walker was absent, recovering from a freeway vehicle crash she was involved in just days before the meeting.
Commissioner Mike Robinson asked if there could be additional requirements attached to the permit but, he was advised “...the time is passed to reopen the permit.” Legal counsel said the Board needs to act based on the official record that’s established.
The Islamic Community of Bosniaks in Minnesota sought the permit for a 16 acre parcel south of Chisago City on Lofton Avenue. A willing seller had been found and the site was okayed by both the township supervisors and the county planning commission for the cemetery permit. As a conditional use allowed in this zone-- there are regulations attached to the cemetery development; such as screening, setback, accessory structure design, etc. The cemetery is a green burial site which means there are no bodily processing chemicals or caskets used in interment. Opposition included concerns about the natural burial methods and traffic, among other factors.
The U.S. Department of Justice however, was asked to begin investigating the permit denial as a violation of federal law under the RLUIPA. The County Board was advised there is no Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust coverage for DOJ investigations or court proceedings, so this could all come off the local levy. Plus, there are allowances in the federal act for monetary compensation claims.
The ICBMN also had filed a lawsuit in the Minnesota Court of Appeals (story Press March 9) to have the land use decision overturned as arbitrary and capricious and without basis in the record. This had the possible outcome of simply reversing the land use vote and was not a civil or human rights review.