Jessica Mathews /

A federal appeals court appears to have ruled in favor of a Catholic group involved in a zoning fight with Genoa Township over a prayer campus.

Catholic Healthcare International or CHI and its president Jere Palazzolo filed suit against Genoa Township and Township and ordinance officer Sharon Stone after a special use permit was denied.

It challenged the application of township zoning ordinances to its 40-acre property and has been seeking to display religiously symbolic structures, including a prayer trail, and host organized gatherings. It sought a proposed place of worship described as a prayer campus on 40-acres at 3280 Chilson Road, on the west side of Chilson Road, south of Crooked Lake Road.

The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued a 3-0 opinion reversing former lower court rulings and granted CHI’s request for an injunction in part. It stated CHI showed they were likely to succeed on their Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act or RLUIPA claims because they showed they could likely prove the township has imposed a substantial burden on CHI’s religious exercise.

CHI had moved for a preliminary injunction, which a lower court denied with respect to the religious displays and granted with respect to the prohibition on organized gatherings. Both CHI and the Township then cross-appealed.

Lengthy meetings were held in 2021, with the majority of residents and neighbors opposed to the initial project, and revised plans due to impact and traffic among other reasons.

In December of 2021, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to not hear the request based off of township zoning ordinance as there was not substantial new evidence to support a change in intent of the application, nor proof of changed conditions from the reasons noted in the township board denial on May 3rd. Commissioners stated they didn’t feel the removal of a chapel was enough change to support rehearing the request and the township board’s prior points for denial stood.

The proposal was for various outdoor uses including Stations of the Cross, a mural wall with an altar, prayer trails, religious landscape and garden statutes, related driveways, and a 39-space parking lot. The plans included the removal of a controversial chapel building, which was said to be basically the only change. The various displays mentioned were earlier ordered removed from the site as they were put up without proper township approvals.

Township Manager Kelly VanMarter told WHMI they were still reviewing the recent opinion and will be discussing it with legal counsel and the township board but based upon her initial review “I am very disappointed in the ruling and am concerned with the land use and public safety implications of the decision”.