Church Can Expand Its Parking Lot

Court issues ruling in zoning dispute.

Church Law and Tax 1996-05-01


Key point. A church’s plan to remove houses on property it owns in order to expand its parking lot does not necessarily violate a restrictive covenant limiting the use of property to residential purposes.

A Missouri court ruled that a church was free to remove homes on adjacent property that it owned in order to expand its parking lot, despite a restrictive covenant limiting use of the property to residential purposes. A church purchased two homes adjacent to its property in order to expand its parking lot. Title to the properties was conveyed to the church subject to any restrictions. Neighboring landowners protested the church’s plan, and claimed that the church was barred from demolishing the homes and extending its parking lot by a restrictive covenant limiting use of the properties to residential purposes. A state appeals court ruled that the church could remove the homes and extend its parking lot without violating the restrictive covenant. It noted that restrictive covenants are not favorites of the law, and any doubt is resolved in favor of the free use of land. It concluded that the purpose of the restrictive covenant in this case was to maintain the residential character of the neighborhood, and that the expansion of a church parking lot was consistent with this purpose since churches and their accessory uses (including parking lots) were permitted uses in residential areas. Fitzwilliam v. Wesley United Methodist Church, 882 S.W.2d 343 (Mo. App. W.D. 1994). [ Zoning Law and Churches]

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