Do I need a permit to start using my house as a church?
(Walnut Creek, CA)
Visitor Question: My city has planning and building departments and Conditional Use Permits. Do I need a conditional use permit to start using my residential house as a church (or house-church)? I have a large driveway and can accommodate all the needed parking on it for church services. We only have 6 members.
Editors' Reply: The best advice is to contact the planning department right away and ask your question.
Chances are very good that you will need a zoning action of some type. As we've explain, it's likely that church zoning is allowed in a residential district. But many if not most towns and cities now require a conditional or special use permit.
If the planning department advises that you need a conditional use permit, they also will explain the process. In many places this is similar to a full-fledged rezoning in process--typically a hearing before the planning commission and then usually progressing to the city council. If a city council action is needed, the planning commission's recommendation would be only advisory.
If your city is strict about the meaning of a conditional use permit, they may attach "conditions" to your permit. These could detail your hours of operation, noise levels, or even considerations such as signage or parking that commonly are addressed by other aspects of the zoning ordinance.
In short, just pick up the phone and ask if you want to stay legal.
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