The Evanston City Council tonight is scheduled to consider zoning ordinance changes that would make all existing churches in business and commercial districts non-conforming uses.

As such they’d have to seek a special use permit from the city for any expansion and would face restrictions on rebuilding if destroyed by fire or other causes. They’d also lose the right to operate the property as a religious institution if the building wasn’t used for over a year.

Any new religious institution proposed for a business or commercial district would be required to seek approval from the City Council as a special use.

The ordinance change is being recommended by the city’s Plan Commission. In a memo to the council, Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons says the commission was concerned about the increasingly wide range in the size and scale of religious institutions — from storefront churches in neighborhood shopping districts to “mega-churches” in “big-box” store sites.

It suggests that churches may have different off-street parking requirements than other uses in commercial districts.

It also argues that it’s become common practice among local governments to more tightly regulate religious uses in commercial districts than in residential zones and that the proposed changes would bring the city in line with those trends.

Some aldermen have expressed concerns recently about the appearance of store-front churches in some of the city’s less-successful commercial districts. An addition several aldermen have voiced concerns about the impact on the city’s tax base of churches and other tax-exempt institutions in the community.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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7 Comments

  1. Council hypocrisy

    As a resident of Evanston, I understand the need for proper zoning laws, they help to keep order in the city. However this proposed change in zoning laws that seems to be targeting the lower level churches is quite distressing.

    The only places in Evanston where these store front churches exist is on the lower ecconomic sides of town. I don’t see any downtown and in any of the designated shopping districts of town. Only in the Howard street area. If not for the presence of these churches a lot of these buildings would be empty and the owners would probably be forced to abandon their property.

    The big churches that occupy the plum real estate down town seem to be exempt from this proposal because I would like to see who is going to tell First Presbyterian that they cannot rebuild if something happens.

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      Thank you for your comment. These buildings aren’t owned by the churches, simply rented. If they were forced out, it would be bad for the churches, but even worse for the property owners….

  2. Excellent idea.

    Time to stop giving away property tax exempt status. We don’t need a church on every block.

  3. Good

    Good – certain downtown storefront churches are making downtown less attractive because they are never open.  Now we can prevent more of them from forming. 

  4. Limits on churches

    Good for the City Council.   If only we can add banks to special use restriction, not only drive throughs.  A bank on every corner doesn’t do much for the vitality of the downtown – and they don’t contribute to sales taxes.  

    As far as churches and property taxes go, it is (somewhat!) understandable why Christine O’Donnell (republican candidate in New Jersey) didn’t recognize that our founding fathers put the separation of church and state into our constitution.  It is because on every front – even on our money ("In God We Trust", our pledge of alligence…"one nation, under God"), we condradict ourselves!  But the biggest example of this by far is giving Churches exemptions on property taxes!  Some churches do provide important community services (soup kitchens, child care, abused women support, etc.) most do not – and to get this generous tax exemption, they are not obliglated to do so. 

    But, when it comes to other regulations such as zoning, I agree that laws that apply to every use should apply also to churches.

  5. This would have to happen …

    This would have to happen just as I was deciding to open my Church of the Eternal Hug. 

  6. I agree with Seymour. Most of

    I agree with Seymour. Most of these churches do not own the property, they simply rent from the owners, who receive no Tax Exemption for renting to a not for profit.

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