By: Sharon Aron Baron
After the Tamarac commission meeting ended with a 4-1 vote for a moratorium on new permits for churches and places of worship in the city, Mayor Harry Dressler became irate when Commissioner Marlon Bolton stepped off the dais, leaving him without a quorum.
Since Vice Mayor Michelle Gomez and Commissioner Julie Fishman were attending the meeting by phone from Washington D.C., this left three people on the dais, the minimum number for a physical quorum needed at Wednesday’s meeting. Not aware that his absence left the commission without a quorum, Bolton stepped off the dais, and headed to his office to retrieve a packet for a resident, and then medication for himself, when Dressler, City Manager Michael Cernech and City Attorney Sam Gorin followed him in.
“Michael was coming to see if I was leaving the meeting permanently, and Gorin came to advise me that without me, there was no quorum,” said Bolton. “That is when Harry came into my office, which is off of the commission chamber, and started cursing at me saying, ‘You black piece of shit’ ‘F— you and your religious bullshit’ and ‘Don’t disrupt my f—-ing meeting.’”
Bolton said he felt like everything they had fought for during Black History Month was just wiped out in two seconds.
Minutes earlier, commission chambers was filled with audience members made up of religious leaders and worshipers who asked the city to vote no on the moratorium, however, their efforts failed when Dressler, Placko, Gomez and Fishman voted yes.
It began when the city manager issued an administrative order to implement a zoning in progress between February 20, 2018 to August 19, 2018 where no religious organization will be able to obtain a business license from the city, nor may they apply to expand their current building. After July 11, city staff recommends the new land rewrite, which states that new or expanded church and places of worship, assembly, auditorium and similar uses and create a long-term strategy to ensure the appropriate placement and regulation of these uses. According to Maxine Calloway, director of the community development department, this is done when it appears it was in the public interest to make a determination whether existing zoning districts and regulations are appropriate, and that it appeared to the city manager that existing zoning districts and regulations may be detrimental, and is in conflict to what is proposed.
Bolton asked Calloway, “We issued this moratorium when a church came to your office and sent several emails that they were interested in coming to the city. From my understanding, staff said that this use was okay. Just as they were going to submit their application, we put in this moratorium. Would you say that was intentional?”
“No, I cannot agree with that,” said Calloway. “Yes we did respond to inquiries but we did not accept a formal application. She assured Bolton that this was temporary – for only 180 days until the zoning in progress was lifted.
Bolton was concerned that after 180 days, the land rewrite would say the same thing. Calloway, said that they would be allowing churches, however, they would only be permitted in multiple designations, not in certain designations. Also, churches will no longer be able to move into shopping plazas under the land development regulations.
“Refresh my memory where churches can move to under this new regulation? The area that churches would be zoned for would be all built out, and therefore churches would have to go through redevelopment, which means they would have to knock down an existing building and rebuild. Most churches, as you know, aren’t able to do that. This very commission applauded a church that started in Tamarac 25 years ago in a strip mall, and now they are in a free-standing building. If we enact this type of legislation, we are saying to our city, you cannot be an incubator for churches. Churches cannot come into our city in a strip mall and grow from there,” said Bolton.
He said that putting a moratorium now to study what they’ve just been studying didn’t make sense.
As a pastor, the issue was close to Bolton’s heart. “The [churches and synagogues] make up the fabric of the community. They offer spiritual guidance. I don’t understand why the city would discriminate against churches. What other businesses do they ban like this?”
According to the city, other zoning in progress and challenging uses include medical marijuana treatment centers and overnight clinics or rehab facilities.
Bolton said that the city of North Lauderdale came up with a solution limiting the amount of churches where no more than two churches can go into one plaza.
“But for the City of Tamarac to block completely all churches, that is just unconscionable.”
He realized there was a separation of church and state, but said to the commission, “We should not play with God, because this is a direct attack on God and his people. And if city hall chooses to go against God, my God is a jealous God.”
a 17-year resident of the city, Pastor Bob di Scipio, from Hope for All Nations Christian Fellowship who moved his church from Coral Springs, said that the zoning in progress struck him as being wrong on literally every single possible level and clearly not in the best interest of the city or the residents to restrict or limit houses of worships from expanding or growing or moving into the city.
“Early in this meeting I heard you [the city] issued over a hundred new certificates of occupancies,” said di Scipio. “Literally every single day people are moving into this city and to a place that’s called a City for your Life. The fabric of the city and community is to have churches for people to go and worship,” he said.
After the commission voted for the moratorium, and the mayor used the racist and profane comments towards Bolton, we asked him if the mayor had ever done anything like this before.
“This has been on more than one occasion,” said Bolton. “I feel like all the progress we’re making in other parts of the country just isn’t happening here. Things like this coming from my leader really is repulsive.”
Bolton said he had no intention of leaving the meeting. “I had a sinus infection. It was getting worse and I had to get the medication from my bag. On top of this, it was a dramatic and emotional night. When I headed back, Dressler yelled, ‘You’re done, you’re done’, and with that he ended the meeting.”