A decision on a church expansion pitting one of Napa County’s oldest congregations against some Yountville homeowners will wait another month, the Town Council decided Tuesday night.
Council members postponed their vote on the Yountville Community Church’s request to convert a neighboring house for church activities, according to Town Clerk Michelle Dahme. The plan, which requires an exemption from the church’s residential-only zoning, is now scheduled for a council vote Jan. 21.
The Yountville church, which this summer acquired the house next door to its chapel at 6621 Yount St., has applied to convert it into space for ministry, Bible studies and receptions. The site also would accommodate a patio area for hosting funerals, weddings and church barbecues.
Memos from Yountville’s legal counsel last month advised the town to be careful not to violate the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which bars governments from creating a “substantial burden” on faith-based groups without a “compelling government interest.”
Yount Street residents represented by attorney Sonia M. Agee in July urged Yountville not to grant the church a land use exemption based on its religious status, saying the federal law protects only freedom of the congregation’s worship and not its administrative or promotion work. In response, the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative law group that advises religious groups, called on the town to accept the Yountville church’s plan.
The council on Tuesday also created a subcommittee to evaluate the church expansion plan, Dahme said. In addition to Mayor John Dunbar and Councilmember Marita Dorenbecher, members are to include one supporter and one opponent of the proposal, plus one at-large member.