|On Aug. 27, the Norfolk City Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing on a proposed zoning amendment to bring city law in conformance with the federal Religious Land Use And Institutionalized Persons Act. Under the land use portion of the law, religious institutions must be treated the same as secular institutions.
To ensure that the Norfolk zoning ordinance complies with RLUIPA, as the federal law is known, the Planning Commission proposes to change the current definition of religious institutions by focusing on the frequency of meetings and the number of their participants rather than on content.
The proposed version defines religious institutions as follows: “Any building, or portion thereof, used for religious services involving at least 15 people, including any accessory uses customary to the operation of a religious institution, such as a school, a day care center, or a dwelling for persons who regularly participate in the operation of the institution, whenever such services occur, on average, at least once per month.” Omitted from this version are the words “a church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or other place of religious worship, including any accessory use or structure, such as a school, day care center, or dwelling.”
The Norfolk Planning Department initially had suggested to limit the number of participants to 10; after a discussion on this number that ranged from 10 to 25, the commission at its Aug. 13 meeting agreed on 15 participants.
Attached to the definition proposal are new parking requirements for religious institutions. Currently, religious institutions have to provide one parking space for every five sanctuary seats; the new requirement would be one parking space for every 50 square feet of gross floor area in the primary assembly area.
The issue is pertinent to Ghent which has numerous religious institutions; also, religious services on occasion are held in private Ghent homes. It is for these reasons as well as the proposed definitional changes that the Ghent Neighborhood League had invited Assistant City Attorney Adam Melita to it Aug. 17, 2009, meeting. Melita provided an overview of the proposed changes and responded to residents’ questions. He also said that RLUIPA has been challenged frequently in the courts.
Planning Commission to redefine “religious institutions”
August 22, 2009 by Irene