Rastafarian church

Madison Building Inspection on Monday placed a green No Occupancy posting on a self-styled Rastafarian church at 555 W. Mifflin St. for failing to address multiple code violations. 

Days after a self-styled Rastafarian church Downtown reopened with a handmade poster saying, “WE’RE BACK BABY,” the city posted its own sign: No occupancy.

The church, after a favorable court ruling, reopened last week, without its prior open use of cannabis and acceptance of “donations” from church members in exchange for dispensations of marijuana “sacrament.”

But the city Building Inspection Division on Monday posted the structure for no occupancy for multiple longstanding violations, including use other than its mercantile designation, heating and air conditioning work done without permits, water in the basement and a sump pump that seems nonfunctional.

The posting means people can be in the building to make repairs, but not to gather or hang out.

“They materially altered the space without permits or approvals,” said Kyle Bunnow, a plan review and inspection supervisor with the Building Inspection Division. “We believe this is a hazard to human beings being in that space that we need to protect against. We want the space to be safe for everyone to use. We want it used according to the law.”

Building Inspection will monitor the site to ensure compliance with the no occupancy order, Bunnow said. The citation for violating the posting, which covers the operators and visitors except those working to address violations, starts at $187 on the first day, $313 on day two, and $376 each additional day.

The operators, meanwhile, must submit plans and get permission from the Building Inspection Division to use the building for a church or other purpose, Bunnow said.

Madison natives Jesse Schworck, 39, and Dylan Paul Bangert, 23, opened the church in March, but after an investigation police raided the establishment, arrested the leaders and shut down operations on May 29. Their criminal cases are still before Dane County Circuit Court, which last week removed bans from the men being at the site or in the 500 block of West Mifflin Street.

Register for more free articles
Stay logged in to skip the surveys

Schworck, who was at the building on Monday afternoon with a church member repairing a door broken by police during the raid, said the operators intend to comply with the notice of required corrections, which was issued on June 6 with fixes to have been made by June 20.

The Building Inspection Division has referred the case to the city attorney’s office, which can seek penalties for each of 17 violations and for each day the violations are unresolved. “They’re looking at significant fines,” Bunnow said.

“We will prosecute the Building Code violations if not remedied,” City Attorney Michael May said.

Schwrock said, “These are all things we need to do anyway. This is all reasonable stuff.”

He said he and members intend to take the steps to get the building designated for church use, which would allow for more capacity and small performances of spoken word or music. “We’re going to use this time to make it better,” he said.

But May noted, “They would have to go through a long plan review process and likely a lot of construction to operate as a church.”

In the meantime, police will respond to any calls for service or complaints at the location, Central District Capt. Jason Freedman said.

“If we develop probable cause to make any arrests including drugs, we will make the arrests, and if we need to seize any contraband, we will,” he said.

The Police Department is “very supportive of the other ongoing tracks for this address including Building Inspection and the eviction process,” Freedman said.

Last month, the owner of the building, Charanjeet Kaur, filed eviction proceedings against Schworck and Bangert. The eviction case is delayed until November, court records indicate, pending the resolution of a federal lawsuit the pair has filed against the city of Madison, the Police Department and several other entities and individuals.

Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, who represents the site, said his biggest concern is that the building will again become a nuisance to the neighborhood.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

Subscribe to our Politics email!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.