Zoning is often used as a tool to protect the haves from the have-nots. The haves are those who already have homes, schools, and places of worship in a community. The have-nots are those who come to a community in search of those things. Even when land is plentiful, any new housing, school, or place of worship will invariably be met with the common “not in my backyard” refrain. The haves may be all for affordable housing, places of worship, and new schools—just not near them. New housing, especially multi-family housing, is seen as a threat to the tranquility and traffic of existing single-family neighborhoods. New churches or private schools, both typically tax-exempt uses, are also seen as a threat to the municipal tax base. As zoning becomes more restrictive and exclusionary, the have-nots find it harder and harder to find affordable housing, places to meet for worship or to educate their children.
In 2000, Congress enacted the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) in order to combat the nationwide problem of municipalities effectively zoning out new religious assemblies and schools. Congress found that many municipalities provided no zones wherein a new church or school could locate, while many others only allowed them into the community on a discretionary basis—requiring them to obtain a “special use permit” from zoning boards and city councils that are often overly responsive to neighborhood opposition and protective of the tax base. At Dalton & Tomich, we have successfully helped dozens of religious groups and schools across the country overcome restrictive land use regulations by asserting their rights under RLUIPA.
Against the trend of increasingly restrictive zoning regulation and in the interest of the have-nots, a few cities are now taking the “radical” step of making their zoning codes less restrictive. In December 2018, Minneapolis became the first major city to do away with single-family zoning. It appears that Portland is now poised to do the same. Both cities are seeking to address the problem of sky-rocketing housing prices, rent, and homelessness. In as much as many have seen their property values soar as a result of restrictive zoning and the scarcity it creates, many others have found it nearly impossible to find a home near their place of employment. By banning single-family zoning, Minneapolis will increase the supply of land available for multi-family housing and will, if the law of supply and demand has its way, see housing become more affordable.
Some even see the move as an effort to undo the systemic segregation of society. Unfortunately, there are many examples of municipalities using zoning to disadvantage minorities. Even today in some of our religious land use suits and zoning hearings, the race or religious beliefs of our clients play an impermissible role in the permitting process.
New religious assemblies and institutions stand to benefit from this move away from prioritizing the preservation of single-family neighborhoods. While churches and schools have historically been considered compatible with single family zones, many municipalities are still amending their codes to exclude them all together or permit them only through highly discretionary and political processes. Like affordable housing, the religious land use needs of a community are worth prioritizing over the often petty or overblown complaints of neighbors. But until municipalities start to roll back their restrictive land use regulations, the attorneys at Dalton Tomich stand ready to help religious assemblies and institutions overcome these barriers to entry.
Dalton & Tomich, PLC is the national leader in successfully helping churches, other religious institutions and their insurers defend their rights in land use and zoning matters under RLUIPA, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. We have helped clients win cases against municipalities and other local government bodies from coast to coast, with experience serving both as general counsel and special litigation counsel.
In 2015, Hope Rising Community Church experienced extreme opposition, the kind that would force it to close its doors and leave behind the families and youth it was so passionate about reaching. As the lead pastor I felt helpless, inferior and as if I had no […]Read More
Dalton & Tomich’s assistance in our RLUIPA matter has paved the way for our church to continue serving the community and for new churches in the area to thrive in the future. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your stand for religious […]Read More
The Urban Church will be forever grateful to Dalton & Tomich plc for navigating it through a difficult land use issue. Let them give you honest and caring advice because that’s exactly what they’ll do.Read More
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Dalton & Tomich, PLC helped us immensely in the areas of litigation and negotiation! Their professionalism and understanding of church policy helped our church be victorious in a modern day religious land use battle. RLUIPA Religious Land Use Case: Lighthouse Community Church of GodRead More
Dalton & Tomich, PLC serves as General Counsel for the 144 churches within the Church of God in Michigan. The firm provides the legal expertise we need in dealing with the issues that arise during the course of fulfilling our ministry.Read More
I met Dan Dalton during a dark time for our church. He was recommended as the leading RLUIPA attorney in the nation. He demonstrated wisdom, expertise, a gentle nature, a calming inter-relational skill, genuineness, and a humble demeanor, while at the same time, being sharp, […]Read More
Mr. Dalton’s expertise and experience helped us through a very difficult legal journey, ultimately achieving a favorable outcome. His personal interest in helping our church went “above and beyond” just the call of duty. His understanding of both legal and spiritual matters seems to uniquely […]Read More