South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

City sued over denial of cell phone tower

Restriction of free exercise of religion alleged in lawsuit.

A wireless development company that was denied permission to construct a cell phone tower in Crestwood has filed a lawsuit against the city.

St. Charles Tower Inc. filed the suit Aug. 20 in U.S. District Court against the city and its Board of Zoning Adjustment.

The company contends Crestwood and the zoning adjustment board lacked sufficient evidence and violated laws governing religious exercise when they turned down its application for an administrative permit to build a 110-foot cell phone tower at the Episcopal Church of the Advent, 9973 Garber Road. The site is in Ward 3 and is zoned residential.

Disguised as a flagpole, the tower would support an antenna owned by Clearwire, which is building a network to provide wireless Internet service in the St. Louis area. A cross would be displayed on the tower “in keeping with the overall religious character of the property,” according to St. Charles Tower’s complaint.

Public Works Director Dzenana Mruckovski in February denied St. Charles Tower’s application for an administrative permit to build the tower because the project did not qualify as a “disguised support structure,” as described in the city’s zoning code.

St. Charles Tower appealed the city’s decision, but the zoning adjustment board upheld it after a public hearing in May. In a written denial, the board stated the proposed flagpole and cross design “would not adequately camouflage or conceal the tower and antennas as an architectural or natural feature as required by the zoning code.”

Even if the company presented sufficient evidence the tower qualified as a “disguised support structure,” the public works director “is not mandated to issue a permit” under the city’s zoning code, the board stated.

The board concluded that, based on the evidence presented at the public hearing last May, Mruckovski’s denial of St. Charles Tower’s application “was necessary to protect the general welfare of the citizens of Crestwood, including but not limited to potential diminution of property values, disrupting the character of the residential neighborhoods and lessening the aesthetic quality within the city of Crestwood.”

St. Charles Tower’s lawsuit includes five counts: lack of substantial evidence, substantial burden on religious exercise, restriction of free exercise of religion, violation of due process rights and a petition for a writ of certiorari against the zoning adjustment board.

The city and board’s denial of the permit was based on “criteria not provided for” in the city code and “criteria that Missouri state law does not allow to be considered when evaluating a zoning request,” the lawsuit states.

In denying St. Charles Tower’s application, the city and board “purport to assert unlimited discretion in determining the appropriateness of the display of the cross as a religious symbol and religious exercise,” the lawsuit states.

The denial of the company’s application seems to allow the city and board “vague and seemingly limitless discretion in determining whether to grant an application for an administrative permit,” the lawsuit contends.

Further, the denial “was truly irrational, arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion” that violated the company’s constitutional right to due process, the suit states.

St. Charles Tower asks the court to compel Crestwood to issue the administrative permit and order the city to pay damages and the company’s legal costs.

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