By Jon King /

As expected, a lawsuit has been filed against Genoa Township after it denied plans for a controversial chapel and religious sanctuary space.

WHMI first reported last week that the American Freedom Law Center planned to intervene on behalf of Missouri-based Catholic Healthcare International (CHI) following the rejection last month of a plan to construct a 6,000-square-foot chapel on 40 acres of land located on the west side of Chilson Road, south of Crooked Lake Road.

Court records show that the suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit against both the township and its Ordinance Officer Sharon Stone. CHI alleges the Township violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Michigan Constitution, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act when it "substantially burdened and unlawfully infringed upon Plaintiffs’ rights to religious exercise, religious expression, and expressive association." Attorney Robert Muise with the American Freedom Law Center stated in the complaint that an “anti-religious/anti-Catholic animus” was behind the Township’s rejection, which he said were based on “amorphous, subjective considerations that were contrary to the facts.”

The property in question is zoned agriculture/country estates and was strongly opposed by neighbors who said it went against the Township’s master plan, and would generate large volumes of traffic and noise from thousands of potential “pilgrim” visitors. Many felt the project would not be consistent with the current zoning and general rural character of the area. Opponents also claimed that CHI had ulterior motives about larger plans for a medical hospital. Contradictory messages were presented at meetings versus what was on CHI’s website. Project representatives repeatedly refuted those allegations, saying such facilities could never be built there due to a lack of infrastructure.

The chapel would have 95 seats, and the parking lot would have 39 spaces. There would be a small outdoor altar and a prayer trail.

The Township planning commission had recommended approval of a needed special land use permit, site plan, and environmental impact assessment by a slim 4-3 margin. Those were later denied by the township board in a 5-2 vote.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial in pursuit of “compensatory damages for the harm caused by Defendants” including “reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses.”

The site is dedicated to popular Italian saint Padre Pio. He was known for holiness, and his popularity began to spread in 1918 when he bled from his hands, feet and sides. The monk is considered the first priest in centuries to display signs of the stigmata, the wounds suffered by Jesus at crucifixion.