Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Zacchaeus House

A private home in Asheville doubles as a place of worship and a sanctuary for the homeless. the home-church has been named Zacchaeus House and is operated by Rev. Amy Cantrell. But the home does not conform to the City of Asheville zoning laws for a public accommodation and the tenant has been issued a Notice of Zoning Violation for operating a "place of worship" in a neighborhood zoned for Single Family High Density.

The small “house-church” was cited by the city for having a church in a residence, and its two ministers, the Rev. Amy Cantrell and the Rev. Chrystal Cook, were told they would have to bring the house up to code as a public gathering place or close. - Asheville Citizen-Times.

...the property must satisfy a host of special building-safety requirements, such as multiple bathrooms, exit signs and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. - Mountain Xpress.

This type of “dumb” government action chokes the serendipity of spontaneous organization and occasions the stagnation of a compassionate human spirit.

Who is to say that Zacchaeus House will continue to be a refuge for the homeless? Today it might be Zacchaeus House, tomorrow it might be somewhere else.

Why should Zacchaeus House remodel at great expense to satisfy dumb government zoning rules when their mission may not persist beyond the morrow? Should another home take up the mission, they will also be required to renovate at great expense to comply with zoning regulations. And another, and another -- only later to revert to its former use. Nonsense!

This is how government intervention becomes a disincentive to charity; which is our right to exercise, as we see fit and in the style we see fit and to the extend we see fit.

It has been suggested that "the neighborhood doesn’t want 'those kind of people' in their midst." That is correct. When I spoke with Rev. Cantrell recently at Zacchaeus House, she called it gentrification.

My good friend Rev. Rightmyer supports the neighborhood. He thinks that requiring thousands of dollars to bring the home up to code for a public accommodation would help "clean up the neighborhood." This kind of expense is both unnecessary and prohibitive.

I suppose the neighbors would rather have the homeless wildly scrambling through the streets for food and shelter on their own than peaceably taking comfort in a friendly home setting with the solace of moral support.


RLUIPA: a federal statute that was passed in 2000 to provide stronger protection for religious freedom in the land-use and prison contexts.

Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act - DOJ.

Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act - Wikipedia.