hen the question of annexation is the main source of an issue, it can cause major controversy between the parties involved.
That is the case between the government of Platte County and the Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Edgerton.
According to Gale Cantu, zoning enforcement officer for Platte County, she had received two verbal telephone complaints about construction at Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Edgerton. Following the complaints, Cantu learned that the church had not received a building permit from the county okaying the beginning of the construction of a portico, a covered walk near the entrance to the church.
Cantu sent a violation notice (stop work order) to the church on April 22, but received no compliance from the church. A second attempt was made by Cantu when she sent a certified letter to the church on May 21. The letter was signed for on May 26, but the county still didn’t receive any communication from the church.
According to Cantu, she continued to make visits to the location, taking photographs of the church’s progress on the portico. Cantu stated that her last trip to the church in mid-June did show the church completed the project without contacting the county’s planning and zoning office.
While the county believed it was necessary for the church to be issued a building permit, church officials say no, because they believe the church as previously been annexed by the City of Edgerton, which would exclude them from the county’s zoning rules.
Pastor Rick Lumm on Tuesday told The Landmark the church considers itself to be within the boundaries of the City of Edgerton and therefore is not required to go through the county’s permitting process.
Presiding Commissioner for Platte County, Betty Knight said the county sees the situation differently.
“The church believes they are annexed by the city of Edgerton, but the county has been in disagreement with that. We believe it’s an illegal annexation in according to what we believe the annexation rules are in the state,” Knight said early this week.
After not receiving any compliance from the Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Edgerton, Cantu said, “I had no recourse but to send the issue to the prosecutor’s office for prosecution. That is how the rules are outlined in the Platte County Zoning Order.”
After being sent to Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd for potential action, the issue of whether to pursue criminal charges was at the forefront.
After a Saturday conversation between Knight and Zahnd a month ago, the two officials came away with different feelings from the discussion.
According to Knight, the conversation began with them talking about other issues when she started asking questions regarding the process behind a case such as this.
“I wanted to see what the process was all about after receiving a violation such as this and I wanted things clarified for my own knowledge,” said Knight. “I’m not sure where he got the interpretation that I wanted him to file criminal charges.”
She continued by stating, “I don’t have that authority of the county commission without official action in one of our sessions. In no way do I ever speak for the county commission without that action being taken.”
Zahnd said he left the conversation with the feeling Knight was urging him to file criminal charges.
“The impression I got from Betty Knight is that she wanted my office to bring criminal charges against the church,” stated Zahnd.
“My recollection of the conversation was whether my office was planning on filing charges. In length I explained the criminal charges I could take, why I was not inclined to do so, and that my office could only file criminal charges, not pursue any civil action.” According to Zahnd, Knight asked him if he would “please continue to investigate the situation and contact county commission counselor Michael Gunn for his thoughts on the matter, and then make a decision.”
In a letter issued to Cantu on July 7, Zahnd indicated his reasoning behind deciding not to pursue criminal prosecution of the church.
“My understanding is that the City of Edgerton has taken the position that it has lawfully annexed the property on which the church sits. If that is the case, the county’s zoning order does not apply to the church and no zoning violation, much less a criminal violation requiring knowing violation of the zoning order, could occur.”
Knight told The Landmark she understands Zahnd’s decision not to pursue criminal action against the church.
“My personal point of view is that I think his decision is perfectly appropriate. Our main concern is that the buildings in our county are built well and built to code. We want our buildings to be safe and ready to use and that is the reason we have the codes inspector and building codes.”
Zahnd’s decision to not file charges came in part to the special place a church holds in our society.
“Churches do have special standing in our country and we don’t want to take criminal charges lightly.”
Late Tuesday, Second District Platte County Commissioner Steve Wegner said the county commission intends to send a notice to the church that it has decided not to further pursue the issue of criminal charges.
Pastor Lumm would only say county officials have now told him the issue “would be permanently resolved later this week.”
Lumm confirmed the church has future plans to build what it calls a community Family Life Center that would offer space for basketball, volleyball, family reunions, wedding receptions, “any type of community family affair,” the pastor explained.
The facility will have kitchen facilities in addition to a full sized regulation basketball court, among other amenities.
It would be open to the entire North Platte community, he said, not just to church members. There would be no charge for its use, he indicated.