Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Church Land Use: more than just meeting and worship space...

Whenever I open up a copy of The New Yorker I first go to the cartoon contest and think of a clever, non-winning, caption. Then I read the other cartoons, then I think about the yearly income one must have to afford the items advertised throughout the pages, then I start going through the articles.  

The last issue had this headline: How a Young Activist Is Helping Pope Francis Battle Climate Change by David Owen. nearly exploded off the page.  I thought to myself, "Either this is going to be 40 minutes of my life I'll never get back, or this could change my life."  It was the latter.  I am glad I did not know about this article when I was writing my chapter on church parking lots, I think I might still be deep in the weeds researching and exploring and trying to steal away for field trips.  

The young activist is mapping all of the land the Catholic Church owns.  She is then creating ways for the Catholic Church to use this land for environmental justice.  I feel like selling my car and giving her the proceeds from it.  

Why stop with the Catholic Church?  Imagine if all of the land owned by faith communities was mapped!  Imagine if all of that land was used for environmental justice!  This could change America and change the world.  Now getting all of the faith communities on board is another issue, but for the moment think if churches used their land for environmental/economic/racial/gender/housing justice!!!

Here is a tale of two stories of how two churches are using their land.

Last week was an amazing church parking lot news week.  I had three stories sent to me about church parking lots (I am lucky to find one every few months).

First, a story from the national United Church of Christ webpage, about Pass-a-Grille Beach Community Church in St. Pete Beach, FL.  The church was being sued by the local government because it was offering "free parking" for beachgoers.  I cannot ascertain why the town was suing.  Does the town charge for parking and thought the church was undercutting their revenue expense?  Did someone on the city council have it out for the church?  Who know the motives.  

I looked at a google map of the church property and it appeared to me the church had maybe 10-15 parking spots.  But when I emailed the pastor, who replied instantly, he said the lot in question had between 70-90 parking spots.  A normal parking spot is 200 square feet, so 70 X 200 = 14,000 or 18,000 square feet of space + lanes for cars to operate.  We are taking about 20,000 square feet of space dedicated to the temporary storage of automobiles.  Indeed, the youth does, sometimes, collect donations for parking and sometimes prayers are said for those parking their vehicles.  But why are we limiting our vision of church space only to the temporary storage of automobiles?  

Here is another story, which appeared on my Facebook feed (it was neither sponsored nor promoted), about Heart of the Rockies Disciples of Christ Church which is donating its land for the building of housing units.  

I chose both stories to show the contrast between church land use.  One is land locked, one is land blessed.  One is in a city-neighborhood, one is in a suburban area.  One has both land and plentiful parking, one has just plentiful parking.  Before you go and make up your mind about which one is truly practicing gospel-centered living, recall there is not one gospel but FOUR.  There is more than one way to get to heaven.  

There is another way for the St. Pete's Beach Church.  And the model is right here in the Twin Cities.  Sacred Settlements.   Here is a nice story about this program.  

In this hybrid model churches give up some of their parking spots for tiny houses.  Hybrid because most of the spots remain for cars.

photo credit: (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

The two churches participating in this program, one is right on the border of St. Paul, MN, the other is in Forest Lake, MN (about 40 minutes south of the cities).  I think this model might be a movement for urban and city-neighborhood churches and suburban and small town churches (and people of conscience) to partner together to eradicate homelessness.  

Why in church parking lots?  Why not mall parking lots or abandoned car lots?  Because of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000

The land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), protect individuals, houses of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarking laws. 

RLUIPA is not a blanket exemption but rather it requires that the government not “impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise,” unless it shows that the burden furthers a "compelling governmental interest” and does so by the “least restrictive means.” We have found this applies well to zoning matters and serves to enable development where it would not otherwise happen.

Because of the RLUIPA church parking lots may be the one place in America where this model could work!  

1 comment:

  1. Good to see more folks thinking about sustainable land use options. We just hit over 1 million forest acres sustainable at WVLandGroup. Took 28 years of land and forest management but a good start. Good read bro-in-law. Tell the fam we said hey.