Recent Developments in New York Regarding Zoning

A New York court ruled that a rescue mission was a “charitable or religious institution” and as such did not need to obtain a special use permit to operate. A charity operates a rescue mission in Albany, New York.

Church Law and Tax1998-05-01


Key point. City zoning ordinances often contain special exemptions for churches as well as charitable and religious organizations. These exemptions are interpreted broadly by the courts.

A New York court ruled that a rescue mission was a “charitable or religious institution” and as such did not need to obtain a special use permit to operate. A charity operates a rescue mission in Albany, New York. In 1995 it applied for a building permit to construct a large two—story structure incorporating classrooms, two kitchens, a clothing distribution center, staff bedrooms, a chapel, and sleeping quarters for transients. City officials ruled that the mission had to obtain a special use permit to construct the facility since it was a “rooming house.” The mission appealed, and a state court ruled that no special use permit was required since the mission qualified for an exemption as a “house or worship/charitable or religious institution.” The court noted that zoning ordinances are to be “strictly construed” against a city, and any ambiguity is resolved in favor of the property owner. The court then noted that the zoning ordinance in question exempted a “house of worship/charitable or religious institution” from the special permit requirement, and observed:

Here it is not disputed that [the organization’s] functions are not for profit. Its mission statement also reflects its religious status. The proposed uses of the facility include providing food, clothing, shelter, counseling, medical care, educational training and spiritual guidance to disadvantaged individuals. Even if we accept [the city’s] conclusion that these activities did not fall within the definition of a house of worship, we fail to see how they do not comport with the definition of a religious or charitable institution. Capital City Rescue Mission v. City of Albany, 652 N.Y.S.2d 388 (N.Y. 1997). [Zoning Law for Churches]

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