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Edgewood alleges religious discrimination in lawsuit against Madison over use of athletic field

Edgewood alleges religious discrimination in lawsuit against Madison over use of athletic field

Edgewood Stadium 1-03272019131933 (copy)

Members of the Edgewood High School baseball team run sprints on the school's athletic field in March.

Edgewood High School is suing Madison over the city’s decision to prohibit the private Catholic school on the near west side from using its field to host athletic contests.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, follows the Madison Zoning Board of Appeals’ July 11 ruling that the high school cannot play games on its athletic field. Edgewood is suing the city under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, arguing that the city is treating Edgewood differently than Madison’s four public high schools.

Edgewood points to the city’s decision to not grant an electrical permit needed to install outdoor lighting around the field as an example of how land use regulations have been used in an “arbitrary, unequal, and unlawful manner.” 

“For nearly a century, (Edgewood) has used its on-campus athletic field to host athletic contests and other activities in furtherance of its religious mission and values,” the lawsuit states. “However, the City and its officials have now imposed the City’s land use regulations in an arbitrary, unequal, and unlawful manner to prohibit Edgewood and its students from using the field for anything other than team practices and physical education classes.”

In a statement, the school said it needed to file the lawsuit Wednesday to meet a deadline regarding possible future appeals and that it is reviewing all of its options. 

Edgewood names the city, the Zoning Board of Appeals, Zoning Administrator Matt Tucker and Building Inspection Division Director George Hank in the lawsuit.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in a statement Wednesday that the city “does not discriminate against any religion.”  

Last year, Edgewood proposed adding seats, lighting and a sound system to its athletic field that would allow it to host sporting events at night. Neighbors opposed the project, saying the added lights, noise and traffic would disrupt the neighborhood. 

Throughout this process, the city discovered that Edgewood was in violation of its 2014 Master Plan. 

Educational institutions located within a campus institutional zoning district, such as Edgewood, can voluntarily create campus master plans. All buildings included in a 10-year master plan are considered approved and do not require additional City Council approval. The plan also designates the uses of various open spaces on campus.

However, Edgewood’s plan did not name athletic competitions as a proposed use. 

This spring, after Edgewood hosted soccer, track-and-field and lacrosse contests, the city sent out notices of violations that the school appealed. The city argued that Edgewood could only use its field for games if it received Plan Commission approval and amended its master plan. 

Following the Zoning Board’s denial, Edgewood requested the city terminate its campus master plan as a way to be able to use the field for athletic events. If terminated, Edgewood would lose its remaining Nodevelopment rights in the master plan and would need city approval for individual development proposals and other changes. 

Rhodes-Conway withdrew sponsorship of a proposed ordinance repealing Edgewood’s master plan.

“Edgewood High School is free to pursue the repeal of its Master Plan utilizing normal city processes,” Rhodes-Conway said in the statement. “I encourage Edgewood High School to work with its neighbors to resolve ongoing tensions over the proposal to have a limited number of night games."

Edgewood said it was "disappointed" to learn that the mayor rescinded her support, especially since the idea for terminating the master plan came from the city. Edgewood said it had to file the lawsuit Wednesday to "preserve its ability" to challenge the Zoning Board of Appeals decision in case the City Council does not approve the proposed ordinance that would terminate the school's master plan. 

Also, the school said it informed the mayor and the city attorney's office weeks ago that it would need to file the lawsuit before the master plan repeal came before the City Council for a vote.

"It is our hope that the Council will still pass the ordinance but we are reviewing all of our options for ensuring that our students are treated equally with students at the City’s public schools," the statement said. 

The group that formed in response to Edgewood's stadium proposal, No New Stadium, said in a statement that litigation is not the way to resolve the issue. 

"No New Stadium regrets that Edgewood High School has opted for litigation rather than abide by the zoning rules they agreed to when they adopted their Campus Master Plan in 2014, after four years of negotiation with the neighborhoods and the city," the statement said. 

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