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Church Parking Lots and Zoning Law

Court rules that a church's planned parking lot would violate zoning law.

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that a church could not create a parking lot on land located across the street from the church. A Baptist church purchased land across the street from the church building in order to expand its parking facilities. Neighboring landowners complained that such a use of the property was not permitted by local zoning law. A local zoning board ruled in favor of the church. It reasoned that churches were permitted uses in the area in question, and that a church parking lot should be permitted as an "accessory use" by a church. The neighbors appealed to a state appeals court, which reversed the decision of the zoning board and prohibited the church from establishing the parking lot. The case was then appealed to the state supreme court, which agreed with the appeals court that the parking lot should not be allowed. The court noted that the local zoning ordinance defined an accessory use as a use "on the same lot with" the principal use or structure. The court concluded that "the definition of accessory use in the ordinance is consistent with the general rule that the accessory use must be located on the same lot as the building to which it is accessory." Since the proposed parking lot was across the street from the church, it was not "on the same lot" and accordingly could not be permitted as an accessory use. Such a crabbed interpretation of the zoning ordinance is highly questionable, and undoubtedly will lead to serious problems for larger churches in communities with similar ordinances, since they will not be able to construct parking lots beyond the square block on which the church is located. Such an interpretation raises serious questions under the first amendment's religion clauses, since it will definitely result in discriminatory treatment of larger churches. Ex parte Fairhope Board of Adjustments and Appeals, 567 So.2d 1353 (Ala. 1990).

See Also: Zoning Law

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  • March 2, 1992