The City of Plano has apologized to a nonprofit organization serving women in crisis after sending them a notice in May that monthly meetings violated zoning laws.
Agape Resource and Assistance Center, a Plano-based ministry, is back open for Bible study after a misunderstanding with the city. The center is a faith-based nonprofit serving “women in crisis," according to Rev. Janet Collinsworth.
"Our whole goal is to help women at the end of their rope,” said Collinsworth.
Agape has operated one of its four refuge homes, located on O Ave in East Plano, since late 2013. Once per month, the home plays host to a fellowship dinner and Bible study for about two dozen clients and personnel.
In May, she said she was shocked to receive a letter from the city demanding Agape cease “events or functions” involving people that were not current residents of the home.
The letter claimed because the event hosted more than the eight or 10 people allowed as residents and caregivers in a “household care facility,” the meeting violated zoning laws.
City attorney Paige Mims told NBC 5 the issue was brought to the city's attention by multiple complaints from neighbors, often coming in at a rate of more than once per week, regarding noise, parking, and general activity around the home.
However, Mims said the letter was sent in error – adding that city staff misunderstood the ordinance, interpreting it in broader strokes than it was intended.
Agape has since received an apology from the city and a retraction of the original complaint.
The City of Plano released this statement to NBC 5:
"The City of Plano ordinances do not ban social gatherings in residences. The City inquiry regarding Agape Resource and Assistance Center was focused on the impact of business activities in a residential neighborhood based on concerns expressed by citizen complaints. However, the notice letter sent by the City was too broadly stated. The misunderstanding has been resolved between the City and Agape. The City did not intend to restrict or regulate devotional or faith-based activities; staff met onsite with Agape Resource and Assistance Center representatives on May 21, 2014 and verbally expressed the same and also has since rescinded the Notice issued May 7, 2014 and extended an apology to Agape. The City values the services provided by non-profit organizations in the support of our community. "
Agape had challenged the city’s original position with its own counsel and advocates for religious at the Liberty Institute.
In the meantime, Collinsworth said the nonprofit is working at being “good neighbors,” saying they “want to blend in and not stand out.”