Day care centers, preschools, adult education classes and a variety of nonprofit groups lease space from churches, synagogues and other faith-based institutions in Saint Paul. How those uses are regulated in the future is the focus of proposed rules that will be reviewed by the city’s Planning Commission in a public hearing on October 29. The intent is to provide clarity as to which uses are and are not allowed in a faith-based institution and which need a conditional use permit.

The proposed regulations are the result of a February 2019 U.S. District Court case involving the city and a Dayton’s Bluff church that houses a daytime shelter for homeless people. Listening House moved into First Lutheran Church when it lost its longtime location in downtown. The City Council approved the move in 2017, but added 14 operating conditions. Church leaders balked at the conditions.

Listening House remains at First Lutheran as a result of the court case. One stipulation in the consent agreement was that the city update its zoning regulations to establish a better process for land use by religious organizations. The new process needs to be in place by February.

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Saint Paul does not have a zoning classification for churches, mosques, synagogues and other faith-based institutions. Most of these are located in residential neighborhoods and have some type of residential zoning. Most have at least one auxiliary use.

The proposed regulations are the result of a February 2019 U.S. District Court case involving the city and a Dayton’s Bluff church that houses a daytime shelter for homeless people.

In the past, the city has used “a determination of similar use” to approve such accessory uses. This process stemmed from a 2004 case involving Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church. The church at 1895 Laurel Ave. was given approval to host a preschool, yoga classes, music lessons and other low-profile, low-traffic uses the city determined complemented the church’s regular religious activities.

The proposed ordinance allows many of the uses that are already present in faith-based institutions, including child and adult day care; art, music, dance, adult and general education classes; after-school programs; and religious education classes. Community meetings, performances and receptions are allowed, as are counseling and other social services and food shelves. Emergency housing and overnight shelters for up to 10 adults and any minor children in their care are also allowed.

However, the proposed ordinance would prohibit the construction of new buildings or building additions to house an accessory use. A conditional use permit would be required for new social and community services that occupy more than 1,000 square feet.

— Jane McClure

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