March 2, 2015; KENS-TV 5 (San Antonio, TX)


Nonprofits can sometimes get tripped up by mundane procedural matters that serve as proxies for broader issues. In this case, a controversial family planning nonprofit with a national profile has to deal with what would seem like a simple local zoning issue in Texas.

Planned Parenthood’s new ambulatory surgical center in San Antonio was given a break on zoning requirements as compared to other surgical centers around the city, according to KENS, CBS’s local affiliate.

The $6.5 million facility is set to open this spring, and will provide women’s services, including abortions, and its zoning is now the focus of a lawsuit. The city granted Planned Parenthood permits last year to remodel the inside of the building, but did not require it to go through rezoning. It had previously housed medical offices, but will now contain surgical rooms.

A woman who lives in the neighborhood behind the facility filed a lawsuit against the city, but a state judge decided last month to deny a temporary injunction preventing the certificate of occupancy. The woman suing the city continues to move forward with the lawsuit to get the city to hear her zoning appeal, while a city spokeswoman says the facility was “grandfathered” in as “light commercial.”

But KENS 5 says other surgical centers, including another women’s reproductive facility under construction nearby, are zoned differently, with greater restrictions on use. The local city councilman called the dispute a “legal battle” outside his domain, but that hasn’t stopped his opponents in the upcoming election from making it a campaign issue. One of them told the station that the incumbent is “only listening to special interest groups and influential donors.” 

This situation illustrates the importance of why nonprofits need to pay attention to public policy issues on all levels, even those that are routine, and to ensure that local political leaders are on your side. You never know when something seemingly small might trip your organization up and negatively impact, if not put a halt to, your mission.—Larry Kaplan