The Richmond Register

December 19, 2013

Planning Commission debates churches in shopping centers

By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — The Richmond Planning and Zoning Commission voted Tuesday to recommend amending the city zoning ordinance to allow churches and government offices as conditional uses in B-4 (Planned Shopping Center) zones.

Conditional uses require permits from the Board of Adjustments.

The recommendation will now go before the city commission.

The planners’ hourlong discussion about the zoning amendment originated from a request to allow Crossroads Christian Church to move into space at the Carriage Gate Shopping Center, which also is home to Hobby Lobby and Office Depot.

Carriage Gate is zoned B4, and churches are not a permissible use in that classification, according to the city zoning ordinance.

Two representatives of Crossroads Christian attended the meeting. They said the congregation has been meeting at a local middle school for some time and wished to have a permanent location. Crossroads also has churches in Lexington and Georgetown.

Attorney Mike Eaves represented the shopping center’s owner, Bill Rouse, at the meeting.

Commissioner Neen Wiggins pointed out that churches do not pay taxes, and allowing churches into business zones could limit the availability of prime retail space in the city.

Meeting attendees also discussed the fact that a church and a government office are housed in the Richmond Mall, an apparent violation of its B4 zoning. However, the Vineyard Community Church and offices for government administrators and the contractor for the Blue Grass Army Depot chemical weapons destruction plant have leased space in the mall for several years.

Eaves urged the commission to change the ordinance to allow churches in B4 zones without the need for a conditional use permit.

However, Commissioner Dr. James Miller said bringing nonretail entities into shopping centers could result in fewer customers visiting the area, possibly hurting businesses already there.

However, Eaves disagreed that a church would have a negative impact on Carriage Gate.

The owner’s assumption is “the church will help save the development,” Eaves said.

Commissioner Mike Rice said he disagreed with requiring churches to obtain conditional use permits to locate in a shopping center, stating the commission was “veering into too much government.”

The landlord knows what’s best for his shopping center, Rice said.

Miller moved to recommend that the zoning ordinance be amended to allow churches and government offices as conditional uses in B4 zones, based on the economic situation in the city at the time and the area available in a shopping center.

The motion passed 5-2 with Rice and Commissioner Richard Thomas dissenting.

The recommendation will now be put before the Richmond City Commission as an ordinance amendment, which requires two readings and a vote for passage.

If the amendment passes, Carriage Gate must obtain a conditional use permit from the Board of Adjustments for Crossroads Christian Church to become a tenant.

The commission indicated it would start work next month on recommendations for a general revision of the zoning ordinance’s B4 section.