The City Church’s attorney Chuck Maduell, pictured at the Providence Heights landmark designation public hearing in July. Nicole Jennings/staff photo

City Church sues city of Issaquah, King County over Providence Heights

Plateau Campus, LLC, a subsidiary of The City Church of Kirkland, has filed a lawsuit against the city of Issaquah and King County through the King County Superior Court.

The lawsuit fights the designation of the City Church-owned Providence Heights campus as a city of Issaquah landmark, a decision that the Issaquah Landmarks Commission made on July 27, as well as the subsequent Sept. 5 decision by Issaquah Hearing Examiner Ted Hunter to revoke the demolition permit the city issued in May and order a new SEPA study for the property.

Hunter stated in his Sept. 5 finding that “the City did not adequately consider adverse impacts to a site designated as a landmark by the City of Issaquah Landmark Preservations Commission,” as the landmark decision had not yet been made at the time that the demolition permit was given out.

The Providence Heights campus was built as a college for the Sisters of Providence in the 1960s as a way to give nuns more educational equality with priests. Plateau Campus/City Church has owned the campus since 2008 and seeks to demolish the chapel and college so that the land can be sold for a higher value.

The Sammamish Heritage Society has been working to see the campus preserved as an Issaquah landmark. The society cites as historic value the campus’ significance in the history of women’s education, especially within the Catholic Church, as well as the chapel’s 14 stained glass windows, custom-made by late, world renowned French artist Gabriel Loire, who has designed stained glass for famous places of worship around the world.

The county was named as a defendant in the suit because it has an inter-local agreement with the city that pertains to historic preservation services, but King County Historic Preservation Officer Jennifer Meisner said that “it was determined by the city and our attorneys that it’s the city of Issaquah’s responsibility to defend it.”

Meisner explained that although King County does “provide landmark services to city through an inter-local agreement,” the agreement states that “the city is responsible to defend [any] lawsuit” concerning “any actions that take place within the city of Issaquah,” such as a decision made by the Issaquah Landmarks Commission.

The church is primarily seeking the revocation of Providence Heights’ landmark status, compensatory damages and legal fees, and a writ of certiorari that the city “may not implement or enforce the Hearing Examiner’s arbitrary, capricious, and illegal decision,” according to the complaint.

The church’s primary argument in the suit is that in preventing the church from being able to demolish the Providence Heights campus, the landmark designation violates City Church’s First Amendment right to freely practice religion.

“Defendants’ acceptance of the nomination and designation decision has imposed and continues to impose unconstitutional administrative and financial burdens on City Church,” the complaint states. “The designation has substantially reduced the value of the Property and therefore City Church’s ability to fund its religious mission.”

According to the complaint, owning the campus has cost City Church about $1.45 million per year since 2011. The church further stated that the campus “did not effectively further its religious mission because the Property was too far from its primary locations for its bible college program to flourish [sic].”

The church added in the complaint that it wishes to use the money from the sale of the property to further its ministries at its locations in Lynnwood, Seattle, Los Angeles and Guadalajara.

The trial date is scheduled for Sept. 24, 2018.

The church is also in the process of appealing the Providence Heights landmark designation. This appeal will be heard by Hunter.

The City Church did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Providence Heights campus was originally built as a college for nuns. Nicole Jennings/staff photo

Photo courtesy of Michael Sladek. The world-famous stained glass windows in the Providence Heights chapel were designed by renowned French artist Gabriel Loire.

Photo courtesy of Michael Sladek

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