Church Property Rezoning
(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.
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