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Church Construction: 5 Ways to Reduce Red Tape

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Unfortunately, too many churches fully design a building only to realize later that it cannot be built due to outside requirements and regulations imposed on them. Zoning, site plan approval, building permits, change of use requests, parking requirements—these are just a few examples of the kind of red tape that can complicate church construction projects. While you may not be able to avoid all issues, you can overcome them with the five strategies outlined below.

But first, consider this story:

A church spent significant funds purchasing property and designing plans for a new building. After submitting their plans to local authorities, they were told that a turn-lane would be required to provide access to the new building. The requirement was non-negotiable and, unfortunately, complying would mean they couldn’t afford to build.

Stories like this underscore the need to look ahead so you can plan your schedule and budget to accommodate them. Here are some ways to do that:

1. Identify sources of red tape.

Before you begin planning a building project, identify the entities that could potentially have jurisdiction over your site. In rural areas, there may be relatively few. For these churches, we recommend paying attention to potential long-term liability issues, such as ADA compliance. However, the majority of expanding churches are located in places where multiple entities regulate development and construction. Identifying them will give you a heads up about the issues you may have to deal with.

2. Consult professionals.

Think of your building project in two parts: the site and the building. For site-related issues, contact a civil engineer early in the planning process. They can alert you to potential problems and help assess the property before purchasing.

Building-related issues can be handled by a general contractor, architect, design-builder, or another local construction specialist. These professionals can help you identify the local entities that can affect requirements and regulations for your project.

3. Review before finalizing design.

Small changes in the way a site plan or building is drawn can have a big impact. Once you’ve assembled your building team, request a preliminary design that can be submitted to local building authorities, utility providers, and other state and local agencies for an initial review prior to finalizing design. This allows you to price-check the project as you go and keep it within your budget.

4. Negotiate.

Local authorities usually have working relationships with building professionals in their area, so your contractor or design-builder may be able to negotiate on your behalf to help minimize red tape. This may involve some give and take and also depends on their knowledge of local code and how it’s applied.

5. Take advantage of city incentives.

One Chicago church designed their building with an environmentally friendly roof, as part of the city's effort toward greener building practices. In addition to saving on energy costs long-term, the church was rewarded with a shorter building permit review period, saving them weeks of time.

Although dealing with at least some red tape is an inevitable part of church construction, it’s important to maintain a positive attitude. Many regulations and restrictions are there to help ensure the safety and functionality of your church. So don’t let red tape discourage you; it’s just part of the journey.

If you would like more information on best practices for building or renovating, feel free to call 866.621.1787 or email me at sfink@agfinancial.org.

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