Best Zoning for a Ministry

by Gen
(San Antonio, Texas )

Visitor Question: Our ministry has been gifted a piece of property that currently has 3 different zonings. A small piece is 02, a section is HE and the rest is C1.

We would like all the property to be zoned as C1 with the exception of the HE section to allow outdoor activities such as markers days, farmers markets, community garden and sometimes allowing music as these events occur.

As of now, we understand that as a C1 we cannot have outdoor activities as listed above or music outdoors.

My question is, would we be better off apply to rezone as a church instead of C2? We are a ministry and our goal is to bring the community together by such activities as we listed.

Editors' Reply: We are going to answer the question as best we can, but first we have to caution that the names of zoning districts are not at all uniform in America, so we might be misunderstanding some aspects of the question. For example, we don't know what 02 or HE zoning are. We will try to indicate what we are thinking as we answer.

For the rest of you thinking of asking a question, please give the text name of the zoning district as well as the letters (for example, C1 might be called Neighborhood Commercial).

The short answer to your question is that you need to check into (a) what zoning districts a church is allowed in, as there might be more than one, and (b) whether your city will allow (or even require) you to call your activity a church, if you do not have services there but simply carry out activities with a religious motivation and perspective.

Since the C1 regulations do not allow you to have music, markets, gardening, and so forth, then you need to consider rezoning all of the property, we would think. The only exception to this might be if these activities are a very minor part of what goes on at the property.

For instance, if you live in a single-family home in a residential zoning district, no doubt manufacturing is not allowed. That does not mean that you cannot make soap or candles as a hobby. Similarly, if you are primarily a church or a counseling ministry, that does not mean that you could not have a small garden plot outside.

But if gardens and other outdoor activities are a primary part of your game plan, as it appears in your question, then you need to rezone the property to something else. We would suggest that since you are going through the rezoning process anyway, it would be highly desirable to have all of your property zoned the same thing. This facilitates resale, if you ever wanted to sell, and also is just good housekeeping unless there is a compelling reason to treat parts of the property separately.

Since we do not know the list of permitted uses in C2 (for our other readers, C2 probably is a more intense commercial district than C1, although that too is a guess), we cannot answer whether you should apply as a church or as a C2. As we stated above, a church might be permitted, or permitted as a conditional use where specific conditions have to be met, in several zoning districts.

If you have some choices of zoning district, you need to think about three things: (a) which district will give you the most flexibility to add other logical ministry types that are only daydreams for you right now, (b) which district would likely trigger the least opposition from any neighbors, and (c) which zoning district would give you the highest property value should you want to sell some day.

Just to expand on (b), neighbors are most fearful of zoning districts that allow a very wide array of land uses, and also of adjacent zoning that is more intense. By "intense," we mean, for example, that a "big box" store such as WalMart or Target is more intense than a small neighborhood florist.

Do not be afraid to ask for advice from the city staff. Most staff members will be friendly and often willing to offer a few words of wisdom to people seeking a rezoning, especially if you are respectful and represent a nonprofit.

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