Tonkon Torp Helps to Clear Path for Building Mosque, Other Religious Facilities

Tonkon Torp appellate attorney Bob Koch recently won a favorable ruling from the Oregon Court of Appeals that allows for Masjid Ibrahim, a local mosque, to be built in the Bethany area of Multnomah County. The court’s ruling is also an important victory for all proposed places of worship throughout Oregon.

The land at the center of this dispute is a 2.2-acre parcel zoned multiple-use agricultural (MUA-20). This zoning allows for community service uses, which includes religious facilities. Bob’s clients wish to build a mosque on their land to serve approximately 150 families living within two to three miles of the property. That plan was opposed by a neighbor, who cited traffic and other impacts as not compatible with the residential character of the neighborhood.

The county had originally approved the building of the mosque and the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) concurred—so the neighbors escalated the matter to the Court of Appeals. Bob argued before the court on July 8 that, based on the statutory interpretation of state law ORS 215.441, the legislature explicitly carved out an exclusion from compatibility tests for proposed religious facilities.

On August 19, the court agreed unequivocally, writing: “We begin with the ORS 215.441 issue. We end with it too because it is dispositive: ORS 215.441 does not allow a county to condition the approval of a proposed religious land use otherwise allowed in a particular zone on compliance with a compatibility standard like the county’s.” The court’s ruling opens opportunities across the state for others seeking to site new places of worship.

Bob briefed the appeal along with Wendie Kellington at Kellington Law Group, PC. Ms. Kellington handled the case before LUBA and the county hearings officer.


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