No Churches in Residential Areas?
From Joong Ang
September 08, 2003

By SangGyo Jung

It will be tough for Korean churches to construct a building in residential areas.

According to the Community Facility Zoning Proposal, churches in residential zoning in New York City are required to have at least one parking spot for every 10 to 15 people.

This will regulate land usage of churches in residential zones, adding to the existing zoning, which requires parking spaces for “fixed chairs” (long chairs in the chapel, not including one-person chairs or unfixed ones).

New York City is aiming to solve conflicts between churches and residents in the surrounding area by diverting church construction to commercial and industrial district where it is easier to find parking areas.

The proposal will go through legislation needed for approval and would become effective next spring at the latest.

The Council of Korean Churches discussed the proposal with city officials at Hyo Shin Bible Presbyterian of New York. The council expressed their strong opposition to the proposal, pointing out that the rules would mostly clearly affect Korean churches.

For example, the proposal includes changed parking lot regulations: Single-house districts (R1, R2, and R3) will need one slot per 10 people, and multi-house districts (R4, R5), one per 15. Churches in apartment-complex residential areas (R6, R7) are exempted from the requirement.

Although the proposal permits churches in R1-R5 districts to be built without parking lots if the building accommodates less than 94 people, it is very rare for Korean churches to serve congregations that small.

At the conference, the New York City officials pointed out the increasing number of complaints from residents in Bayside and Littleneck, which indicates the proposal has been targeting Korean churches in that area.

Also, “Home Churches” or churches which have been renovated from residential housing, would also be threatened. A church minister at the conference said that he had to close his “home church” in Queens for two months after a neighbor complained during the service. Another minister also spoke about difficulty continuing church services because of neighbor complaints.

New York City Department of City Planning has shown that it is willing to impose strong regulations on illegal churches whenever complaints are reported or a Board of Community recognizes it.

Church buildings have to be made of bricks for emergency occasions such as fire, but most of these “home churches” are not. According to a city official, most of them are from mixture of wood and bricks. Churches with construction permits would not be affected by the new proposal, but those who don't already have permits would have difficulty accommodating parking lots.

Kim, the president of the Council of Korean Churches, worries that under the proposal's strict requirements on procedure and parking slots, it would be almost impossible for Korean churches to build in residential areas. For Korean churches and their congregations, this could constitute a major crisis.

Kim and Lee, another minister and council official, also visited City Hall to discuss the situation.

Lee claimed that it is inappropriate to remove churches to industrial districts. He added, “We will look for ways to confront this challenge, such as cooperating with the Council of Churches of the City of New York.”

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Translated from Korean by Joo Yeon Lee

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