Church Zoning Imperils Mayor's Standing

The issue at the heart of an election recall effort in one Ohio city centers on what is better for a community — a thriving church or a thriving business.

While Euclid, Ohio Mayor Bill Cervenik (search) says the state of the city is strong, opinions against him may be stronger. A group calling itself the Euclid Awareness Committee (search) is collecting signatures on recall petitions for Cervenik and the nine-member city council.

"I'd say we're halfway to our goal at this point with a couple of weeks left," said John Conway (search), who heads the committee.

Cervenik and the city council are accused of ignoring a voter referendum that prevented the city from handing over a 68-acre parcel of land, currently just trees and a few fire hydrants, to a Cleveland church that wants to use 23 acres of the land for a new church and the rest for 88 single-family homes.

The city council approved a zoning change to allow for the community on a 5-4 vote last fall, but city voters overturned the zoning change in a November ballot question and insisted the land be designated for light industry, which prior zoning allowed.

The church sued, and Cervenik, hoping to avoid a lawsuit that city attorneys said Euclid would lose, settled out of court. The settlement included giving the church its zoning change.

"We had to weigh the great possibility of having over $3 million in punitive damages, spending $250,000 in attorneys' fees," Cervenik said.

Now, recall organizers want Cervenik and the council out, even council members who voted against the zoning change in the first place. They say the lawmakers are not interested in protecting voters' rights.

"They simply do not feel that the mayor has earned the privilege to serve out the remaining three years of his term," Conway said.

Cervenik has been mayor for just more than 15 months. He said most of the people on the committee are uninterested in voters' rights as they are the ones trying to overturn his election victory.

"A good portion of this group that's leading this recall effort, Euclid Awareness Committee, did not support my candidacy in my election as mayor in 2003," he said.

A special election is due in May if the petitions are valid.

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Steve Brown.