St. Peter Lutheran

Churches in St. Peter will now be regulated as public assembly, rather than religious assembly, to align with federal rules and ensure that religious assembly uses are not treated different than other public assembly uses. Zoning definitions for daycare centers in town were also changed by the council at its Sept. 23 meeting. (Herald file photo)

The St. Peter City Council agreed to one recommended zoning rule change at its Sept. 23 meeting and is likely to make another change soon, both helping to ensure that the city’s rules match up with state and federal regulations.

Religious assembly will now be grouped in with public assembly in the city’s zoning ordinance. And daycares, if the recommended change is approved at a future meeting, will be classified as group family daycares or daycare centers.

Public assembly

The city’s zoning ordinance previously regulated assemblies in two fashions — the first was religious assembly, which included churches, mosques, synagogues and similar spaces; the other was public assembly, which included sports arenas, movie theaters, etc.

In 2000, the federal government passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. It would not allow communities to regulate uses that would treat religious assembly uses on less than equal terms than public assembly uses. There were no standing rules in St. Peter that would’ve treated religious assemblies different than public assemblies, but the city chose to just group them all in one category to ensure no future problems arise.

“It has become a trend in the industry for persons to remove connotations to religious uses and then to regulate such uses and assemblies as they would with any other,” Community Development Director Russ Wille told the council during the Sept. 23 meeting.

All present voted in favor of the voting change, classifying uses previously in the religious assembly category as public assembly.

Daycares

The city’s ordinance currently has two definitions of daycare. Daycare services limited regulates the daycare to six or fewer children. Those of seven or more are labeled daycare services general.

“We’ve determined that almost all of the daycares in the community have the seven or more children,” Wille told the council.

The state, meanwhile, regulates daycares as group family daycare — 14 or fewer children — and daycare center — 15 or more children. The Planning Commission felt it wise to bring the city’s ordinance in line with state regulations to keep complications to a minimum for providers.

At the Sept. 23 meeting, though, Councilor Roger Parras noted that, rather than simply changing the exact numbers in the city ordinance, the city should just say it’s rule lines up with the state’s rule.

“(The Planning Commission) had discussed just lining it up with the state, rather than saying a particular number, because the state could change the number and we’d have to change again,” Parras said.

The rest of the council agreed, but city staff suggested they come back with a newly written ordinance, rather than changing it on the day. The council is seemingly likely to vote in favor of the revised ordinance change at a meeting in October.

Reach Editor Philip Weyhe at 507-931-8567 or follow him on Twitter @EditorPhilipWeyhe. ©Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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