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Churches OK in residential areas
The city of China Grove now will allow churches to operate in residential areas.
Mayor Pro Tem Doug Pruski and attorney Steven Peña led the discussion as the China Grove City Council created and unanimously approved the new zoning ordinance regarding churches.
The ordinance requires a special-use permit application and approval process to allow for the placement of church sanctuaries--where actual worship services are held--and related structures in residential areas.
Victory Gospel Church representatives, who recently had purchased land in China Grove with the intention of building a new church facility, brought the matter to the council.
Peña advised the city currently has only two zoning classifications -- Category One, which is residential, and Category Two, for commercial use. According to the attorney, the city currently has no churches in a Category One district.
“By law, [churches] cannot currently operate outside of Category Two districts in China Grove,” he said.
Representatives of Victory Gospel Church, which anticipates a congregation of 400 to 500 members when it opens, approached the city after purchasing a tract of land on Foster Road. The area is zoned residential.
Peña cited a Supreme Court ruling regarding the free exercise of religion, saying cities typically make allowances for churches.
“... but you can put restrictions on things like parking, buffering, hours of operation,” Peña said. “Things like that. And that’s what is being proposed here.”
Going forward, applications will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Once an application is approved, a church must fulfill the requirements as dictated by zoning laws; churches also will be bound by the restrictions agreed in the permitting process.
“A good example, or another way of looking at it is if someone wanted to build a house,” Pruski said. “It is kind of the same thing. If they are not going to build it according to the plan or according to what China Grove wants, we are not going to approve it. That’s basically what’s being done here.”
One concern raised by some residents in attendance is a child-care facility included in the church plans, with service not limited to members of their congregation, but open to the public.
Peña said such issues would be decided in the permitting process.
Also during the meeting, several citizens aired concerns about the upcoming municipal election, set for Saturday, May 10.
Campaign practices, and the one of some campaigning methods, were raised.
“Last elections, things got pretty drastic and dirty and it seems like things might go that way this year again,” said resident Daniel Rocha. “I’ve been here for 25 years. We’re a small area and to be brought up in the news for the mudslinging and things like that doesn’t do a lot of positive for our area.”
Former Alderman Larry Keller asked for a halt to contention voiced about the current city government.
“We need experience on the council that will reverse this slippery slope that we’ve been on in terms of all the negativity that’s been brought to the city of China Grove,” Keller said. “I’m asking my fellow citizens to really think about who they are voting for.”
In other matters, the council:
•Heard the city’s financial reserve has increased to $135,495.73
•Approved an increase in the hours police officers work each week from 24 to 32.
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