Did You Know That In Yorktown, Your House Is Also A Church?

6 Acting ZBA chairman for FBC, Gregg Bucci, in action.
6 Acting ZBA chairman for FBC, Gregg Bucci, in action.
You read that correctly.  Not in Crazytown, this is in Yorktown.  I just filed and served an article 78 petition to the Yorktown Zoning Board of Appeals challenging 3 parts of a determination they made which set a stunning new precedent.  The Yorktown ZBA believes that a "place of religious worship is a residential use."  While it's not uncommon for the ZBA to act irrationally and to make arbitrary and capricious decisions, just ask Nick Witkowich, the mental gymnastics they used to arrive at this conclusion defies all logic and does a disservice to the residents of Yorktown.  I'll outline the argument and evidence against this ZBA interpretation, but first, I want to give you an example of why this ruling may not be appropriate for Yorktown.

As it were, I've been a certified ordained minister for about a year and a half, literally.  I desire to host small church services in my home.  I'm in the process of registering my church as a not for profit corporation [501(c)(3)].  After that's complete, and I transfer title of my home to the not for profit, I can register with the town tax assessor and have my property tax liability go to zero.  Sure, I'll have to pay for garbage pick up, but that's overwhelmingly offset by the tax savings. 

Whereas before December 12th, 2013, I would have had to apply to the Planning Board to change the use of my house to include a place of religious worship--the ZBA's interpretation obviates that requirement.  My residence is already a church.  In all municipalities in New York state, you have to make application to change or add a use to a structure.  In Yorktown, section 15-7 of the code explicitly requires it.  However, because now, in Yorktown a church IS a residential use, my residence is already a church.  I can skip the whole amending my certificate of occupancy part of the process, which can, quite frankly, be a pain in the you know what.  It's all true, and that almost makes it funny. 

To be clear, not a single resident is opposed to a new church development on the site.  The special use permit required for the church being reviewed by the Planning Board is unopposed by any party.  The neighbors' concerns are specific to compliance with parking and occupant load regulations.  It's a matter of scale.

I'm attaching five pages of excerpts from my petition and hope you read it.  As a trained architect and a professional building code and zoning consultant intimately involved with Yorktown's zoning, planning and building processes for over 3 years--I think we can do better.  I don't think it's corrupt or there is any ill will, but rather it's a systemic failure.  It hurts the applicants by dragging out and misleading people through the application process.  The town is hurt by boards making arbitrary determinations that openly invite legal action.  There is a better way and I want to join with Yorktown to right the ship.  I hope you'll join us too.  It is one of, if not the, most important issues facing Yorktown today.

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