Church Property Rezoning

by Karen
(Town of Islip, NY)

Visitor Question: Must a property bearing a place of worship always be a place of worship? Or may it be sold for any use permitted by the zoning, such as to build a home?

Editors' Reply: No, a house of worship can be converted to any other use allowed under the applicable zoning district.

This also holds true for any other land use under the zoning ordinance--each can changed to another permitted use at the whim of the property owner.

There is one exception to this rule, which occurs when the place of worship was required to have a special use permit or a conditional use permit.

Let's talk about what those two things mean.

A special use permit simply means that the particulars of a proposed land use are reviewed for appropriateness and that the permit is issued only for that owner (usually) or for that land use (sometimes covering subsequent owners of the same business or concern).

Sometimes the zoning ordinance spells out criteria for the granting of a special use permit, but often there is a public hearing and then the planning commission and usually the legislative body, such as a city council, has to vote to agree to the special use permit.

The conditional use permit is based also on the idea of a review of a particular proposed use and set of circumstances. The difference is that if municipalities are strict about it, at least, the city or town government attaches "conditions" to the permit.

For example, a condition might say this use can't operate on Saturdays, or it can't open before 6 a.m., or it can't have outside employees, just to pick some random examples.

Maybe the condition would be that water usage wouldn't exceed a certain amount, that certain noise limits are imposed, and that it can't operate after sundown.

Usually in a conditional use, the conditions must be met at all times. Often the conditional use can transfer from one ownership or entity to another.

So back to your original question about a place of worship. Yes, you should assume that the place of worship can be sold for use as an advertising office, a boutique, or a single-family home, if those land uses would be permitted in the zoning district where the house of worship now is located.

Ask at the city or town hall, though, if there is any kind of special permit, conditional use, or special use that pertains to the place of worship though.

Comments for Church Property Rezoning

Click here to add your own comments

Can you build a church on land zoned for Light Industrial?
by: Anonymous

We are looking for land to build our church on and we found some really good land that is zoned LI. Should this be a problem?

Editors Reply: We can't answer that because it depends totally on what your local zoning ordinance says. There is no nationally applicable zoning ordinance, and the ordinances of local jurisdictions vary widely.

Your city, county, or township may have what is called cumulative zoning, where things permitted in one zoning district are automatically permitted in another one.

Find out what the list of permitted uses in the LI district are. Many places now have their zoning ordinance online, and if so, you can read this for yourself. If it's not online, you will have to call or visit your city hall (or county or township headquarters if you are not within city limits).

by: Anonymous

Visitor Comment: We got a good deal on a church and would love to move into it and use it as residential. All we are doing is to use one of the rooms as a bathroom, and a kitchen will be installed where the stage used to be. IS THERE ANY SPECIAL PERMIT FOR THAT OR REZONING? THANKS IN ADVANCE.

Editors Reply: To answer your question, you will need to ask the village, town, or city government about this, if your church lies within the boundaries of one of these. It is likely that you need a permit for the building renovations, since plumbing will be involved in both.

If the church you purchased does not lie within city limits (or township limits if you live in a part of the country where townships have active governmental functions), then you need to ask the same questions to your county.

As to rezoning, it is possible that you would need rezoning but not too likely. Again, ask your local government about this.

We think your zoning may not need to be changed, because churches often are permitted in residential zones. However, if the church is in an industrial area, for example, residences might not be permitted. So you will have to ask your local officials, since zoning is subject to much local variation. Also the era in which the church was built might make a difference, as the church itself could have been a nonconforming use for some time.

Nonconforming use is a zoning term for something that was legal according to the zoning ordinance at the time it was built or first used, but not legal as a new land use under the current zoning law.

So check right away with the relevant government before you spend any money, time, or effort on this.

Turning Church Building Commercial
by: Anonymous

Question. I currently have an offer in on a church
that I want to turn commercial. Problem is
the church converted back to residential
when it previously sold, as the church is
located in an r1. Do I have a chance to
get this changed?

Editors Respond: Briefly, yes, there is always a chance you could get a rezoning, given the right circumstances.

A planning commission and then local government elected body (such as a city council) would be more likely to look favorably on rezoning a church building to commercial if it adjoins other commercially zoned property (or some other category with large land uses, such as industrial or institutional) and is not right in the middle of other residentially zoned property.

If surrounding zoning and land use is residential, rezoning the church building to commercial would not be regarded as good practice, but certainly you are within your rights to apply for the rezoning.

Church Loud Music Disturbs Neighborhood
by: Anonymous

What about storefront churches in a residential neighborhood that not only plays loud music well into the morning, however, sublets to other churches that also do the same thing throughout the week. They have not complied with the law, requests of the neighbors to be respectful of the time, nor the police to turn down their music. What can be done now?

Editors' Reply: The original question was about changes of land use, but this is such a good question we will give a brief answer.

If a church is a permitted use in the zoning district, your only options are requesting enforcement of a noise ordinance or possibly a disturbing the peace violation if appropriate laws are in place.

If the church is operating under a conditional use permit, however, get the language of the ordinance approving the conditional use and request enforcement of any provisions related to noise, and in addition, ask your city council to revoke the conditional use permit if your zoning ordinance allows such an action.

Also if the church is not the property owner, get the property owner involved to put pressure on the church to be more neighborhood-friendly.

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Ask a Zoning Question.

Join USEFUL COMMUNITY PLUS, which provides you monthly with short features or tips about timely topics for neighborhoods, towns and cities, community organizations, rural environments, and our international friends. Unsubscribe any time. Give it a try.