DuPage amends rules on places of assembly

Decision settles, for now, question of where religious and other groups can set up

October 11, 2011

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DuPage County has new rules on where places of assembly, including places of worship, can set up. The county board Tuesday voted unanimously to allow those institutions into all zoning districts by right. That means they won’t have to go through a lengthy and costly process of seeking permission from the county to set up on land they purchase. Currently, churches, temples, mosques and other places of worship are not allowed by right in any zoning districts in DuPage County.

The new requirements include a greater minimum lot size and, for groups trying to set up in residential neighborhoods, access to an arterial road and public water and sewer lines. The amendment also prohibits groups from purchasing houses to use as worship spaces.

The measures come after more than a year of intense discussions with community and religious groups. Last year the county considered a blanket ban on allowing religious and other assembly uses into unincorporated residential neighborhoods. The sweeping approach prompted an outcry from community groups such as DuPage United, and concerns that it might violate federal and state laws that provide special protections for religious land uses.

County officials, community organizers and religious leaders agree that they were able to come together in a positive way, and do so with a positive approach.

“I think that it is going to open up a whole new avenue for places of assembly into DuPage County,” said DuPage County board member Tony Michelassi, “and I think that it reflects how DuPage is changing.”

But Amy Lawless of DuPage United still has reservations about the new rules. “We still recognize that it will prevent many, many congregations from even considering to build,” she said, “because it will be so costly in order to meet all of these restrictions.”

Lawless points out that Muslim congregations in particular may be effectively kept out of unincorporated residential districts because the groups often start out small, and coming up with the money required to meet the technical requirements may be impossible. The Muslim community is among the fastest growing population in west suburban DuPage County.