Zoning is a very important issue for churches. In most cases you will need zoning approval before you can build. Time needs to be allowed for this in the drawing and construction process.
Many times a church will buy new property before a design professional is involved. Make sure to investigate the zoning of the property before you buy. Some types of zoning do not allow a church to be built. If you are buying ground that you know the zoning will be need to be changed, make getting the new zoning approved a contingency of the purchase.
Zoning is not getting any easier. More and more requirements have to be met. Planning commission, tree committees, historic committees, special use permit, planned development, and architectural reviews are some of the steps you must go through to get approval. Every city, county, and township zoning board can be different. If you relocate from the city to the county the whole zoning process may be different than what you went through the last time you built in the city.
If you know you need a zoning variance do not assume that it will be easy. Typically, all of the property owners around you will need to be contacted by the zoning board. Many times neighbors will show up at these meetings opposed to whatever you are trying to do.
Preparation is the key to simplifying the zoning process. Know what your municipality requirements are and meet them. Often times architectural plans are enough to get your zoning approved. Sometimes the zoning requires more drawings for landscaping, storm water retention, parking, and traffic impact, to name a few. Allow the time it will take you to go through the process. You may need to get approval even if you meet every requirement and do not need variances or special uses granted.
A design professional can help guide you through this process. The building or master plan they design should meet the zoning requirements. If you want to do something that zoning will not allow, the design professional should inform you of this and let you know that you will have to ask for a variance.
Only on a few occasions have we had to get attorneys involved for the church to get approval. If this happens the delay can become long. The bottom line is much like some people’s belief in the rapture. Be prepared for the worst but pray that you won’t have to go through it.