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Lakeland church wins fight against city over produce stand | News

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Lakeland church wins fight against city over produce stand
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Lakeland, Florida -- A Lakeland church's fight against the city's code enforcement appears to be over.

The case, which got national attention, centers around a produce stand Believer's Fellowship Church put up in January. The city tried to shut it down, but during a special hearing on Friday, it was determined it could stay up.

"I think it's a great thing that we can continue," says associate pastor Jon Friedt.

Church leaders say the "prayer and produce" stand is a chance for them to offer free fruits and veggies to those in need and to grow their ministry.

But Lakeland code enforcement recently cited them for operating a business in a residential zone.

The church, though, refused to back down.

"We've got to stand up for this right. Otherwise precedents will begin to be set to say that the function of the ministry must stay behind closed doors and behind walls of buildings," Friedt says.

The issue with the stand starts with the exchange of money.

Signs make it clear the produce is not for sale, but they gladly accept donations for the church.

"It's a very thin line. Once they start accepting money in exchange of goods in a retail fashion they would be in violation," says Kevin Cook, with the City of Lakeland.

During Friday's hearing, James Sedou, an independent attorney appearing as Code Enforcement Hearing Officer, determined the produce stand can stay.

He says it's no different than a collection plate being passed around during church.

"While they do accept donations, they aren't selling them.  They're not running a retail operation," Sedou tells 10 News.

Friedt says there's a broader lesson to be learned from the case, in terms of dealing with the government.

"Understand the laws, but understand your rights and know how to work properly within them," he says.

City staff says they have no plans to appeal Friday's decision.

Friedt says the church typically makes about $500 per week from the produce stand, but that amount has gone up with all the publicity from this case.

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