Key Point 7-06.2. Some courts permit local zoning commissions to restrict the location of churches in residential areas.
A New York court affirmed a city's decision to deny a church's application for a special use permit that would have allowed it to relocate to an area of the city that was zoned exclusively for industrial use. A church entered into a contract to purchase property in an area of town that was zoned for industrial uses. The contract contained a contingency clause specifying that the contract was subject to the city issuing a special use permit to the church within 60 days authorizing the use of the property as a church. The city council denied the church's application for a special use permit by a vote of 7 to 0 on the ground that the property was zoned for industrial rather than church purposes. The city zoning ordinance allowed churches in areas that were zoned residential, commercial, or manufacturing, but not industrial.
The court concluded that it was permissible for a city to balance "the presumed beneficial purpose of a church" in an industrial zone against public health, safety, welfare, and "other legitimate considerations" such as the economic benefit associated with the development of an industrial park. The city concluded that balance tipped in favor of preserving the exclusively industrial nature of the property the church had acquired. This was especially true in light of the fact that churches were permitted in every other zoning classification. Western New York Dist., Inc. of Wesleyan Church v. Village of Lancaster, 841 N.Y.S.2d 740 (N.Y. Sup. 2007).
This Recent Development first appeared in Church Law & Tax Report, July/August 2008.