Zoning, churches, and tax bases

Zoning of land can become a contentious issue, particularly when a community sets limits that some community members find restrictive. An article quickly mentions one of these points of contention: when communities make it difficult for churches to be built.

“Churches do not realize the fight they’re in,” Baker said. “If you go into a commercial district, they say you’re wrecking their tax base. If you go into residential, they say you’re disturbing their peace.”

While the issue is not new, Baker said, “The objections to churches obtaining zoning do seem to be heating up under the [economy].”…

In Houston, churches recently raised objections over a proposed drainage fee by city officials. In Mission, Kansas, churches filed a lawsuit after being charged a “transportation utility fee” to help fix roads.

In the case of Burbank, Mayor Harry Klein told the Chicago Tribune, “It’s obvious—every city likes to see their tax base grow, that’s a given.”

An alderman in Evanston, Indiana, raised concerns last year about the impact of “storefront churches” on the tax base and proposed an ordinance requiring special-use permits for houses of worship to operate in all business or commercial districts.

While this article doesn’t give any insights into how common this is, it does suggest that these cases might be more common now in a time of economic crisis. This may be the case as many communities look to close budget shortfalls and churches also have some more purchasing power with reduced real estate prices. Is there any data to suggest these sorts of incidents are now more common?

This article does highlight the goals of local municipalities: generating tax revenue and expanding the tax base. To require fees to pay for roads or sewers are not unusual when commercial or residential property is involved as these fees help offset the infrastructure costs for local communities. Churches do not generate property or sales taxes for a community so they might be considered dead weight. And if a church wants a potentially lucrative property, then the aims of the church and the community are at odds. Zoning is a means by which local communities have some control over land use and therefore can attempt to use zoning rules to regulate everything from the placement of banks to churches to tattoo parlors.

It would also be interesting to compare these sorts of cases with churches to those of mosques (one example here).

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