Writer’s Direct Line: (312) 853-8709

September 2023 


Dear Brothers and Sisters: 

This letter is a follow-up to your request for a letter concerning the requirement that any church desiring to locate in Chicago, in a business or commercial area, obtain a “special use” zoning permit and your request to be informed concerning the actions some of our clients will be taking. The process of obtaining such a permit places the following burdens on churches: 

  1. They must buy or lease the property (and make necessary improvements) taking the risk that the city will deny their permit and obtain a court order forcing them to vacate; or they must find an owner willing to sell or lease them property contingent upon special use approval. Finding such an owner puts a church at a distinct competitive disadvantage in the real estate marketplace because many and perhaps most competing purchasers or lessees need no such permit. 
  1. After having purchased a property or obtained a contract to purchase contingent upon “special permitting,” the church must then file a request for special permission paying filing and publication/notification fees of about $1,000-2,000, and usually hire an attorney, real estate appraiser, and/or architect at a cost of $5,000-10,000. 
  1. The hearing process often generates confrontations with angry neighbors, petitions and counter-petitions, and meetings with posturing aldermen or city council representatives. 
  1. The hearing process can take from two months to six months or longer, depending upon when the Zoning Board meets and if continuances are required because neighbors want more studies conducted. 
  1. The church usually experiences stress from financial strain and uncertainty. Members often misunderstand the law and may lessen giving, feeling their leaders have tried to do something “illegal” if the permit is denied. 
  1. If the permit is denied, the congregation often suffers a great disappointment and must start over in its property search. The pastor’s leadership ability may also be called into question. 
  1. The pastor, of course, is under considerable pressure not to preach on sin in city government since the Alderman and the administration can negatively impact the expansion pans of the congregation. 
  1. The Federal Religious Land Use Act (RLUIPA), actually initiated by a partner in this firm, can provide a strong counterweight to Chicago’s complex land use hurdles. 

Yours in Christ, 


John W. Mauck