July 18, 2019
FORT COLLINS – A lawsuit filed against the City of Fort Collins by the ACLU of Colorado on behalf of the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship is close to resolution, with the parties’ attorneys having agreed on a set of conditions that will allow the Fellowship to provide outdoor storage lockers to individuals experiencing homelessness. The proposed settlement requires approval by the Fort Collins City Council, which is expected to consider the measure in August.
“Our faith speaks more about the need to take care of the poor than any other moral issue,” said Steve Ramer, Pastor of the Fellowship. “I’m happy we’re close to finally settling this issue and will soon be able to offer our neighbors a place to store what little they have. These lockers may not solve homelessness, but they’re a piece of the puzzle and an extension of our faith through good works.”
In 2018, the Fellowship’s plan to install up to 20 lockers and make them available to individuals experiencing homelessness sparked a neighborhood controversy and prompted City staff to require the Fellowship to seek approval from the Planning and Zoning Board. That Board conditionally approved the program, but neighbors appealed to the City Council. At a hearing last fall, the Council denied the neighbors’ appeal but imposed additional conditions on the operation of the locker program, including onsite supervision by a Fellowship representative. Ramer said it was impossible for the small congregation to comply with the City’s conditions. As a result, the locker program ended its brief operation and the ACLU filed a federal court challenge to the conditions imposed by the City Council.
“Our lawsuit argued that the City was unjustifiably infringing on the Mennonite Fellowship’s religious practice,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director. “We are pleased that the City’s attorneys were willing to negotiate a compromise that will allow the locker program to function.”
The parties’ negotiation provides for security cameras, expands the ability of participants to access the lockers and no longer requires a Fellowship representative to be present at all times, as long as one is available by telephone.
In addition to Silverstein and Staff Attorney Arash Jahanian, the ACLU legal team includes ACLU cooperating attorneys Brian J. Connolly, Thomas Macdonald, David A. Brewster and Andrew L.W. Peters of Otten, Johnson, Robinson, Neff & Ragonetti, P.C.
The ACLU of Colorado is the state’s oldest civil rights organization, protecting and defending the civil rights of all Coloradans through litigation, education and advocacy.