A Scarborough church risked a $1 million fine last night by serving its weekly free Sunday meal, after the City of Stirling deemed many of the church's activities were in breach of local planning regulations.
Under the planning scheme, Scarborough Baptist Church is allowed to use its land on the corner of Westview Street and Brighton Road as a place of worship and child daycare centre.
In a letter sent on September 18, the council identified activities such as serving dinner at weekly Sunday evening services, craft classes, band practice and preschool dance classes as unapproved use of the land.
These activities mean the 65-year-old church risks a $1 million fine and a further $125,000 fine for each day it is found to be in breach of council regulations.
The council said it was obliged to investigate after receiving complaints from residents over late-night noise and antisocial behaviour such as urination in public.
Senior pastor Andre van Oudtshoorn said the church had held such activities for years with minimal issues, including the Sunday meal, which often fed the needy.
"In the 10 years we've been running the meal, we've twice had an occasion of people who came who were inebriated and we had to ask them to leave," he said.
"We have told the City of Stirling we have a protocol that if we find people like that, we call the ranger.
"Nobody's ever caused a disturbance as far as we know."
Health and compliance manager Peter Morrison said the council has told the church that it would consider changes to allow many of the activities if the church lodged the necessary applications and showed how it would address neighbourhood concerns.
"The church has refused to make any such application," he said. "Any organisation, church or not, needs to make an application to their local government authority to conduct activities on premises."
"This is State law and the church is not above this law."
However, Pastor van Oudtshoorn said the church took issue with the city having the power to define what was and wasn't a religious activity."We cannot ask the City of Stirling what is a religious activity - that would just mean becoming an arm of the State," he said.
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