• Key point 7-08. Most cities have enacted building codes that prescribe minimum standards in the construction of buildings. The courts have ruled that these laws may be applied to churches so long as they are reasonably related to the promotion of public health and safety.
* A Kansas court ruled that a neighboring landowner waited too long to halt a church construction project that in his opinion violated setback requirements in the local zoning law. In 1999 a county zoning department issued a building permit to a local church to construct an addition to its sanctuary and the church began construction later that year. Shortly after construction began, an adjacent property owner (Harry) noticed that the church’s addition would encroach on his property. Harry’s attorney wrote a letter of complaint to the zoning department, and in return received information on the setback requirements between Harry’s property and the church. Several months later, the construction project was completed and the church began using the facility. Harry’s attorney sent another letter to the zoning department in which he asked the department “to take appropriate action to enforce the zoning regulations, and bring the building addition into compliance.” When no response was received, the attorney filed a lawsuit in which he asked the court to issue an order compelling the county to enforce its zoning regulations and declare the church’s building permit null and void. The court declined to do so on the ground that Harry had waited too long to challenge the county’s actions. It concluded,
Harry, by his own admission, became aware of the church’s plans and that the addition might encroach on his property in late summer 1999. He watched as construction proceeded and was completed, and only then filed his petition on December 13, 2001 …. If Harry was truly concerned in the summer of 1999 about zoning violations, there were any number of steps he could have taken. Chief among them would have been to file for an injunction seeking to halt construction of the church’s addition. Instead, the record demonstrates that he took no legal action between August of 1999 and December of 2001 when he filed his petition [with the court]. The only steps taken that remotely resemble legal action prior to the filing are a few letters to the county by his attorney. However, the letters were written 17 to 18 months after the church had completed and begun using the addition. In May of 2001 [Harry’s attorney] asked the county “to enforce the zoning regulations, and bring the building addition into compliance.”
The court concluded that under these circumstances “it is clear the church would be unduly prejudiced in that it expended approximately $360,000 on the addition and used it for nearly 2 years before Harry filed his petition.” Moreover, even though the church’s plans to build an addition “may not have been widely publicized throughout [the community] they were well known to Harry. Also, knowing small Kansas communities as we do, there is no doubt that everyone knew what was going on.” Mulanax v. Zoning Administrator, 2004 WL 2578686 (Kan. App. 2004).
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