How many times have you heard of a Lending Institute receiving a phone call from a church all excited about a property they have just found and need to borrow money right now or they will lose this wonderful opportunity?
Usually the church has never had anyone look at the property for them or even investigate the property’s potential to see if a church would be allowed to be placed on that site or in that Zoning District. The times of a church buying whatever piece of land they want, putting up a sign and starting to worship on that site is gone! The government ordinances and regulation that have been placed by zoning and land use requirements has restricted the potential of churches in many areas. The attitude of these governmental departments has turned to the idea that churches are a drain on society. They do not pay their fair share. They do not pay taxes on their land but they take from the resources of the State, County, Township or city in which they are located. The result has been project delays and expensive concessions and demands when it comes to planning and zoning approvals. In many areas, the new approach or attitude of the local government has become one of them getting as much development money from this church up front, because once they are in their building, they will not be able to get another dime from them. This leads to the churches being forced to take on costs for roads and other utility development that were previously paid for by the State, County, or local governments or not required at all. I have sat in planning meetings as churches that did not do their homework prior to purchasing land sought approval from these government boards that do not want to see their tax revenue reduced with the construction of yet another church.
Our approach is that prior to any site acquisition a church makes, the church and the lending institution should require a thorough site analysis prepared by a qualified Architect. This written report should look into the potential property: its location; its visibility; possible ingress and egress; parking potential and requirements; possible need for soils, environmental and other tests; suitability for building; suitability of any existing structures; utility access and provisions; planning and zoning constraints; storm water management issues; and potential growth onto adjacent properties. This level of analysis will aid the church and the lending institution to determine the limitations of this site and to hopefully protect the congregation from unnecessary delays and costs.
If the zoning ordinance does not state that a church is a use-by-right on that site, then you will need that zoning board’s approval to place a church on that site. If it does state a church is a use-by-right on that site, you will still have requirements that any church will have to meet before it is allowed on that site. If a church is already on that site, it does not mean that church has been approved to be on that site or to even expand. If a huge established church facility is on that site, it does not mean the little growing congregation that can possibly afford its sale price can afford to maintain this multi-million dollar facility. And finally, if a church just received a great deal on fifteen acres, it does not mean that all fifteen of those acres are buildable – it could mean that they have just purchased twelve and a half acres of designated wetlands.
John W.G. Rosecrans, AIA is the Owner and President of DIMENSIONAL DYNAMICS, Architects and Planners, Inc. located at 455 Old Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, PA 19317. phone: 610.388.0755 fax 610.388.2761 email: firstname.lastname@example.org webpage: www.dimdyn.com