ANTI CHRISTIAN ZONING LAWS
INCREASE VALUE OF CHURCHES:

American Appraisers Corp. appraises churches all over the country and a phenomenon that I would like to discuss is the affect
on church real estate in the face of an anti Christian government.  

The most obvious example I have witnessed was a church we appraised in Washington DC last year.  Prince George County is
one of the three counties adjacent to the city limits of Washington DC.  A few years ago, Prince George County was attempting to
spur industrial development with its own industrial park.  Much to the consternation of the local government, a church purchased a
large tract and built a large church.  Consequently, the government lost the tax revenue that they were expecting for this site.  With a
knee jerk reaction, the government changed the zoning laws so that, churches could not build on anything but residential land.  Not
surprisingly, churches were not happy.  The days of small churches in quaint residential settings are gone.  The current trend is very
large churches, with family life centers, gymnasiums, adult classes, etc.  In order to pay for these facilities, the church needs
people.  

Although churches are not considered retail, they do share several attributes of a retail use.  A church thrives by increasing its
membership and attendance.  This can be accomplished using all the same methods that a retail store would use.  They are
advertising, word of mouth, convenience.  The advertising and convenience are accomplished by having an attractive church that is
highly visible and easy to get to.  Therefore, the current trend of new churches is to locate in high visibility areas, preferably close to
a major limited access road interchange.  These site qualifications are identical to a retail use.  Since the location of these sites,
would most likely be commercial or industrial, the change in zoning eliminated the very sites that new churches were seeking.  

So what happened?  The first reaction was that any existing church facilities were suddenly in high demand.  The premise of the
cost approach is that no reasonable person would pay more for a property than the price for which a new facility could be built.  If
building a new church is suddenly not an option, then the bindings of the cost approach, which generally keep an appraisers feet on
the ground fall away.  The market value is then free to drift into the stratosphere.  Churches began selling at prices higher than
shopping centers and would sell again after a very short holding period at even higher prices.  The thirst for new church property
encouraged churches to be more creative.  Their solution was to purchase existing retail and office buildings and convert them into
a church.  Since the structures were already in existence this conversion was allowed by zoning.  With such a supply crunch, the
converted churches began selling at 300% of what it sold for as a retail building.    

The overall affect on the market has been the opposite of what the local government would have expected.  They were hoping that
since churches could no longer build on vacant land in commercial areas, they would quietly retreat to the suburbs and allow the
land to be developed into a tax revenue generator at some future date.  Instead, the churches are buying high grade retail buildings
that already generate tax revenue and turning them into a non-taxable entity; thus reducing the tax revenue.  So, the local
government managed to protect the “future” tax base on undeveloped land, but in the process, actually decreased their existing tax
base.  The secondary and most unfortunate result is that churches simply have to pay a higher price for real estate than any other
buyer.

Is this an example of a government discriminating based on religion?  I would submit a resounding yes.  

Although this particular example was in the Washington DC area, the anti Christian zoning laws are becoming increasingly
popular.  In Port St. Lucie Florida, a church must have a parcel of land specifically zoned for religious facility.  In other words,
churches are not allowed in any zoning category.  In order to get the RF zoning, the church has to successfully obtain a zoning
change.  As I’m sure you known, a zoning change is typically difficult and expensive to obtain.         
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