On July 21, 2008 the Shawnee County District Court set aside the Topeka City Council’s decision under the Kansas Historic Preservation Act, that there were no feasible and prudent alternatives to the construction of a new parking lot for Grace Cathedral, to be located in the environs of Bethany Place, the site of Bethany College, the first women's college in Kansas. The City had approved the project despite a finding by the Kansas Historic Preservation Officer, that the proposed project would “encroach upon, damage or destroy the Bethany Place site” because it would necessitate the removal of several historic trees and change the relationship between two historic buildings on the site and the street.
In a detailed, 57-page decision, the court sharply criticized the city for ignoring evidence that feasible and prudent alternatives to the proposed parking lot existed and for granting the permit upon the threat of litigation under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Significantly, the court stated a decision to deny the Cathedral’s parking lot project would not rise to the level of a “direct and substantial burden” on religious exercise.
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