New snag for ex-Denver couple trying to homestead old church in rural Kansas | Opinion

There’s a new hurdle in the way of the couple trying to convert an abandoned church to a home in St. John — and it has the potential to send the matter to court.

Mike Rosseau and Dorothy Tobe have been fighting for 10 months to move into the church building they purchased after they were forced out of Denver and Colorado by the high cost of housing.

And they appeared to be on their way to a resolution when the city’s planning and zoning board voted last month for a special-use permit to allow them to move into the old church, which they’ve renovated to the point of passing a residential building inspection.

Letting them move in (after they’ve spent the last 10 months working on the church by day and sleeping in their real estate agent’s guest room each night) seems like the just, logical and common-sense thing to do.

But good-old-boy network politics run deep in St. John.

Two former City Council members, along with a member of the zoning board who eventually had to recuse herself from the issue, have joined forces on a protest petition that will force Rosseau and Tobe to have to get four out of five votes when the issue comes before the City Council.

That vote was supposed to have been this week, but it was postponed to a special meeting due to absences among the council members.

Among the absent council members was Mark Bryant, who’s been hospitalized for nearly two months with a variety of health issues. He was Rosseau’s and Tobe’s only supporter on the five-member council when the case came before it in July of last year.

The protest petition blocking the occupancy of the church — which was vacant and used for personal storage for 20 years before the couple purchased it — is signed by three neighboring property owners.

They include Kevin Davis, owner of Davis Electrical, a contracting business at the other end of the block from the church. Also, Jeni Jones, who owns a beauty shop next-door to Davis Electrical.

Davis is a former member of the City Council and Jones is on the planning and zoning board.

Together, they filed the complaint last July that led to the council rejecting the couple the first time around — and the city bringing an unprecedented and bizarre charge (later dropped) of criminal zoning violation.

The third name was a bit of a surprise. It’s Ryan Christie, who signed as a co-owner of Davis Electrical.

Christie was on the City Council the first time the zoning case came around. He voted to deny the conditional use permit, while his partner acted as the public face of the complaint.

Conflict of interest doesn’t get much clearer than that.

This time around, Rosseau and Tobe won’t have to worry about his vote. He got tossed from the council in November by a write-in candidate, largely due to the backlash over the way City Hall treated the couple.

The petition itself makes much of the fact that Rousseau’s 1954 Hudson Super Wasp is parked in the front yard of the church.

It doesn’t mention that one of Davis’ two properties on the block is an abandoned gas station that’s a bigger eyesore than anything Rosseau and Tobe have going on.

The petition also makes the claim that “commercial spaces are already scarce in a town of our size, making it challenging for existing businesses to expand or new businesses to establish.”

That doesn’t pass the eye test or the laugh test.

Downtown St. John is full of properties like Davis’ gas station, where business left years ago and the run-down vacant buildings are used for storage.

Tobe said she’s hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst when the council meets on Monday.

A lot has changed in the past year — and voters sent a pretty strong message with Christie’s removal from the council. But a four-fifths vote on a body that rejected basically the same thing 10 months ago is a tall order.

“If it’s the same history, they may vote us down, and then our attorney has to file and appeal and we all get to go to court,” Tobe said.

If it comes to that, the city will have to prove it has better reasons for rejecting Rosseau and Tobe’s permit than that a handful of well-connected business people don’t like it.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that.

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