Church Zoning: Permission Denied

Municipalities and neighbors are increasingly resistant to church construction and expansion.

Nadege Dutes inaugurated her Church of God of Holiness in Christ in 1993 in Miami. By late last year, the Haitian Pentecostal congregation had grown to 165 people and outgrown the leased building they occupied.

About three miles away, the congregation found a suitable spot to relocate in the Little Haiti section of Miami: a 9,400-square-foot former commercial refrigeration showroom and office building. Many of the parishioners live in Little Haiti and do not own cars, and the new site is within walking distance.

Because the building did not meet specified church zoning qualifications, Dutes and other representatives of the congregation sought a variance from the city. Zoning commissioners granted unanimous approval last October. In November, the Church of God in Christ paid a $40,000 down payment of the $240,000 purchase price.

But then Robert Raley, whose Take One Lounge shares a common boundary parking lot with the proposed church, convinced city officials to stop the congregation from occupying the building.

Raley cited a city ordinance—originally designed to safeguard churches—that prohibits nude entertainment businesses from operating within 500 feet of a church. Take One Lounge customers buy liquor and pay to see women strip and dance naked.

IMPROVING THE NEIGHBORHOOD? "I've been here 24 years," Raley told Christianity Today. "It would be reverse discrimination if a church is allowed to open up next to me."

However, the 36-year-old Dutes, who immigrated to the United States in 1973, counters, "The church may not be paying taxes, but we're preventing young people from taking drugs and killing. If the church moves there, we believe the area will be improved."

For the time being, Miami zoning officials have sided ...

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Christianity Today
Church Zoning: Permission Denied
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April 28, 1997

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