Church buying residence to use for youth center does zoning allow

by Bill

Visitor Question: A church on the next block over has purchased the house behind ours. We asked some people coming out of the church what they intended to do with the residence, and they said they were thinking they would turn it over to the youth so they could have their own private space. Is this allowed by zoning?

The extra noise and activity from barely supervised youth doesn't seem compatible with our nice quiet residential area.

What can we do about this situation?

Editors' Reply

We've seen a couple of searches for information on this topic before, so yours seems to be a good question to answer.

If you read our page about church zoning, you will understand that the courts have given churches very wide latitude to do whatever they want in terms of land use, in the name of freedom of religion.

By extension, a court is likely to find also that the church can use the residence it is purchasing for a youth center if that activity is defined as part of the church program.

Your problem as a resident is that it will be difficult to disprove that the youth center isn't a part of the church's overall outreach program and that it isn't used for religious activities.

All it would take is for one or two meetings a week billed as study groups to make a court skittish about disallowing the youth center.

Your city council, or its equivalent in your town or city, probably will have the same reservations, or at least the attorney that your town employs will.

So the first thing after you read this, please head over to city hall and find out exactly what your zoning ordinance says. Nowadays, many zoning ordinances are on-line also, so you might be able to stay in your pajamas and do this part.

If churches are allowed in the zoning district where your neighboring house is located, check to see if a special use permit or conditional use permit is required. Perhaps the ordinance simply would have some limitations on the church use of property spelled out in text.

If there are any permits or conditions, you may be in luck. Your city council might be able to impose some "conditions," as they would be called, on the use of the building.

Reasonable conditions to request would be strict enforcement of the occupancy limit for the building, screening of the parking area specific to the new youth center, a restriction on hours of use, and perhaps a maximum decibel level if you have any similar noise limits included in your zoning ordinance or a separate noise ordinance.

A decibel is simply the measure we use of the loudness of a sound.

You may be able to request the condition that all events occurring in the building be related to the religious purpose of the congregation, but here you really would need the advice, interpretation, consent, and support of the town attorney.

The difficulty of saying an event must be religious in nature is that virtually all religions teach love, peace, and either tolerance or intolerance, so it's tough to show that a particular meeting wasn't religious and that the general court-sanctioned leniency on church zoning doesn't apply.

Comments for Church buying residence to use for youth center does zoning allow

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Why would you not work WITH the church?
by: Zad

What I see here are very very SAD responses to a very good cause in the neighborhood. A church adds value to the local community. One, a youth program keeps troubled youth off the streets and from breaking into your homes! - High crime rates lower the value of neighborhood. Churches increase value. I've lived beside three different churches in my life. All were incredible blessings to me and the community. If there were noise issues, pollution, or parking issues why wouldn't you go talk to the church directly? Most churches I know of want to be friendly to the neighborhood and would move "heaven and earth" to do so. Local churches near me go door to door to elderly homes and offer to help with yard or home maintenance free of charge!

My momma said it best. You get more flies with honey than vinegar. Shame on you for not talking to the church and asking them to help. No they probably won't shut down the youth program, but I bet they'd be careful of decibel levels, parking, and put youth support staff in place to assure compliance -- if you'd only ask.

Public Nusiance
by: Patricia

John, I feel your pain. I have the same issue at my home. I totally renovated a historical home with my entire life's savings. I paid if off to boot due to high insurance rates for historical homes,especially in Florida. A little church added a daycare and then a school, and now is just a school, all without a public hearing for a chuange of use. The zoning office changed the zoning to institutional use, all the while they operated under a special exception. It took me nearly 3 years to find out the church property belonged to a member of our county growth management department. Follow the advice of the editor on checking to see if a special exception was granted the church and what conditions were added in order to use the property as they are using it. I hear you saying that you live in a quiet neighborhood, and church use may not have been allowed at the time the church was actually built. Now, this is real important, FIND OUT WHAT BUFFERS WERE REQUIRED. IF, and only IF there is a special exception, then be sure the buffers were sufficient for outdoor youth activities, or a playground use. If they were to have put a buffer in, but did not maintain the buffer, then you ask for a formal hearing and then request a "complete review" where you will get the chance to talk to building inspectors and planners about having an achitect trained in acoustics to have them install a buffer sufficent to block the line of sight which will help tremedously with the sound. Also be sure to check the difference between a church use and a playground use under your county or city code of ordinances.
I hope this helps. I have done 3 years of research and spent over $23,000.00 so far, due to the relationship between the LLC that owns the school/church, and the county government.
Before you hire an attorney, consider asking your law enforcement if they can help you to initiate a public nuisance, as a private nuisance will be much more costly. Research public vs private nuisance, and visit

Church use unfair to neighboring homeowner.
by: Joan

As a resident of my development for over 45 years, I am sad to say the church behind me has purchased the house next door. Each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. the youth have drum practice. Then, after or during church, the children are using the yard for soccer practice.

This is because the church has paved every inch of land for parking. The parking during church has now extended to our neighborhood streets, the lawn of the house they purchased next door, etc.

So, if this is fair, why can't I open a Second Hand Shop in my house. Where are the laws concerning zoning and use of a community house, just because the church purchased it.

Editors' Comment:
Yikes! As we've explained before, and in more detail on our church zoning page, churches and religious uses get more-than-fair treatment when it comes to zoning.

However, be sure to try direct communication with the church, organizing your neighbors to support you, and complaining to your city council, township, or what have you.

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