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June 3, 2010

Top 10 Things Churches Need to Know About Zoning

A zoning attorney offers helpful information before you buy or build your next church facility.

Editor's note: Church law expert Richard Hammar says zoning is one of the Top 5 issues to land a church in court. To learn more about church property and zoning laws, check out Richard's Volume 2 of "Pastor, Church, & Law, 4th Edition."

Below are 10 things your church should know about zoning:

1. Zoning laws can prevent your congregation (whether by lease or purchase) from using land or buildings in many areas. They can also prevent you from expanding current facilities.

2. Include a "zoning contingency clause" in any real estate contract to protect your congregation from a financial loss if permission to rezone the property is not obtained by authorities.

3. Check zoning laws in advance. If you plan to purchase land or expand your present facilities, check with municipal officials before you shop.

Continue reading this article at LeadershipJournal.net, the website for our sister publication Leadership journal, where the article first appeared. Click here for a free trial issue.

John Mauck is a Chicago civil rights attorney with Mauck & Baker, LLC (www.mauckbaker.com), concentrating on zoning law. He helped write RLUIPA.

Related Tags: building, buildings, church building, church property, community, facility, government, Law, planning, Richard Hammar, zoning


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you list below. I am trustee at Merriam Christian Church, at 9401 Johnson Drive, Merriam, Kansas 66203.
Eddie L Reed

Good advice, but having worked with churches over thirty years here are a few more -
(1) Never buy land or a building without consulting an architect with development experience. The question of whether a church is allowed is only the first of many issues. Parking is often calculated not on the nyumber of seats, but on all the uses considered independently. Ultimate right-of-ways which have not yet been condemned or wetlands or buffer zones or green area in the parking lot can make a seemingly large property inadequate for your needs. Don't go by what you see in an area - most existing developments could not be recreated under current regs unless in a remote area.
(2) Churches require occupancy permits. Even if you have zoning, that does not give you the right to use a particular building for a church. Sprinklers, fire ratings, and accessibility issues may make a propery zoned properly infeasible. I was called by two small churches recently who acquired buildings that cannot be legally used for churches because they have second floor uses and in one case a secopnd fl;oor sanctuary which must be sprinklered. That was never in the budget, and they are both there illegally.
(3) Signs are critical for churches - many jurisdictions limit animated signs or even traditional signs that are large enough to be easily read by people driving by. It may be cheaper to pay a bit more for a site with looser regulations than put that monetary difference into a prolonged legal battle which is a bad way to beginn in a new location.

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