Zoning regulations different for churches

Published 4:47pm Monday, December 30, 2013

JACKSON – While Northampton County zoning ordinances do prohibit enclosed nativity scenes in residential areas, the same may not hold true on church property.

On Dec. 26, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald published a story (“Nativity scenes illegal”) that dealt with a concern made by a Rich Square woman regarding whether or not it was permissible to have a sukkah in her yard. A sukkah is a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot.

After consulting with Northampton County Manager Ken Creque, Melissa Miles Taylor learned that the placement of a sukkah in her yard was not allowed under the county zoning ordinance. She also discovered that, according to Creque, prohibitions against accessory buildings in front yards of residential property would also prohibit the display of a full size manger, the construction of a full size re-production of the Kaaba, because Northampton County has no waivers for temporary religious constructions.

In response to the article, Creque contacted the News-Herald to clarify some of that information.

“Our zoning ordinance does not allow the placement of accessory buildings in the front yards of residences,” Creque said. “Accessory buildings can include a life-size nativity scene, barns, sheds and the like. The ordinance does not reference the type of building. It was put in place to guarantee not only the health and safety of the property owner, but of their neighbors as well.”

As far as church property is concerned, Creque said zoning requirements for that type of land are different than residential restrictions.

“Church property is zoned differently; they are a totally different category from residential property, complete with different setback requirements,” he noted.

When asked if a church was out of compliance of their zoning requirements, would they be cited, Creque replied, “If one of our Code Enforcement officers noticed anything that was out of compliance, then, yes, they need to cite it. That would apply to any parcel of land that falls under the county’s zoning ordinances, to include residential, business and church property.”

However, with only two Code Enforcement officers responsible for covering the 700-plus square miles of Northampton County, Creque said it would be hard to immediately determine how many parcels of land were not in compliance of zoning regulations.

While he and Taylor may have a difference of opinion on the matter, Creque did praise her for first checking with the county in regards to possible restrictions on the sukkah.

“As is more often the case, people will build first and ask questions later,” he said. “There are many household additions that first require a building permit. If you have any doubts, I would urge you to first call our Planning and Zoning office at (252) 534-1905.”

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