Visitor's Question: A church building lies on property zoned R1 in a residential neighborhood. It has always been a church as far as we know. The church is no longer occupying it. We would like to convert it to a house. Is there any problem with converting it to a home since it is R1? It was built in 1969 according to the city although the original plans say 1955.
Editors Reply:Typically this conversion would be more than fine. For our readers who may not know, R1 commonly is the short name for one of the residential zoning districts, usually the one that is most oriented toward single-family homes.
So if your town, city, or county is like most, the most familiar land use in R1 zoning is the single-family home. The church actually is the outlier, since churches probably were written in as permitted uses either a long time ago when walking to church from within the neighborhood was very common, or they were written in as a permitted use relatively recently when courts started ruling that freedom of religion meant that churches had to be give wide latitude within zoning ordinances.
Now notice that all along we have been using language such as "typically" and "usually." This gets to the heart of the matter about why we decided to answer this question.
Zoning ordinances are locally written and adopted, and there is no national or international standard code that has been widely adopted. This means that we cannot give you a final answer because you could be living where there is a really weird zoning provision.
So to really know the answer to your question, you will have to call or go to your city hall and ask. When you do this, don't volunteer a lot of extra facts. Just ask if a church now located in R1 can be converted to a single-family residence. Don't complicate the question by adding information about when it was built; if they need to know more facts, they will ask questions before giving you an answer.
The International Code Council is trying to change our statement that all zoning district regulations are local, but in our opinion, they are a long way from standardizing zoning in the way that building codes and property maintenance codes can be standardized and then adopted locally with very few amendments.
We predict you will find out that the zoning definitely will allow you to convert the church to a home, but the only way to know for sure is to ask your city before you buy the property.
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