June 7, 2011
Churches Forced to Stop Building Use Over Zoning Issue
At least five churches in a business park in Georgia are being prevented from holding services there after a fire marshal’s routine inspection found that each church did not have a certificate of occupancy, according to a local newspaper and channel. Further troubling for the congregations, the complex where the churches are located is not zoned for churches; therefore, the county will not issue the needed certificates.
The churches hope to convince the county to allow them back in, which may include asking the county to rezone the area. Until then, they will not be able to meet in these buildings.
Zoning cases like this are among the top five reasons churches go to court, according to Richard Hammar, who is an attorney and the senior editor of Church Law & Tax Report.
Hammar writes in detail about a similar case and the court’s ruling, as well as what churches should know about the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which may help churches who face similar zoning issues.
Earlier this year a church started to battle a zoning law passed soon after they signed a contract to build a new sanctuary out of a restaurant, according to Christianity Today, which quoted Richard Baker, an attorney who is representing the church, as saying, “The objections to churches obtaining zoning do seem to be heating up under the [economy]."
An article co-written by Hammar describes how launching a business at church can impact a church’s zoning.
For more information on how zoning laws apply to churches, Hammar’s book Church Property & Administration: Volume 2 of Pastor, Church & Law covers zoning in detail.