ELKINS – Summit Church and the owners of the property that it uses for Sunday services are suing the Randolph County Development Authority after they claim it is violating the U.S. Constitution by refusing to let the owners sell the property to the church.
Due to lack of space in its current location, Summit Church holds Sunday morning services at the American Mountain Theater in Elkins and has been holding services there since 2012, according to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.
In August, the church and Kenny and Beverly Sexton, the owners of the property, began to discuse a sale of the property to the church and, after discussions, it was agreed that the church would purchase the property from the Sextons and then lease space to the theater for five years, according to the suit.
The plaintiffs claim under the sale to the church, activity to the property would be largeley unchanged from the present land use as church activities would take place on Sundays and the theater would continue to hold performances on the property.
In 1997, the Authority purchased the former CSX railyard and depot for the purpose of developing the area and the Authority resold individual parcels of the former railyard to various buyers, according to the suit.
The plaintiffs claim when the Authority sold individual parcels to new buyers, the buyers took the parcels subject the the Building Covenants and Standards for the Elkins Railyard.
The Coventants were established by the Authority for the express purpose of redeveloping the former railyard as a “commercial mixed-use district that refelcts the history and culture of the site,” according to the suit.
The plaintiffs claim churches and other religious assemblies are not listed as a permitted use or a prohibited use in the Covenants.
On Oct. 26, Randolph County Development Authority held a special meeting to discuss the proposed sale of the property to the church and the Authority determined that the church is not an acceptable land use in the former railyard and thus, the proposed sale would violate the Covenants, according to the suit.
The plaintiffs claim this was despite the fact that the Covenants regulate the use of properties, not the ownership, and the actual use of the property would not change appreciably under the propsed sale.
The Authority orderethe Sextons to inform the Authority within 14 days that they would not convey the property to the church and threatened a lawsuit if they did not comply with that demand, according to the suit.
The plaintiffs claim the defendant is violating the right to free exercuse guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The defendant is also violating the right to equal protection guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, according to the suit.
The plaintiffs are seeking an order to enjoin the defendant from enforcing the Covenants in such a way that ban churches, while permitting similarly situated non-religious assemblies and institutions in the former railyard; damages; and further relief. They are being represented by E. Ryan Kennedy of Robinson McElwee; and Daniel P. Dalton of Dalton & Tomich.
The case is assigned to District Judge John Preston Bailey.
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia case number: 2:15-cv-00082