DuPage County has adopted a set of zoning law changes that include prohibiting religious groups from converting houses into places of worship.
The revisions, which county board members approved Tuesday, allow churches, mosques and other places of assembly to be located in unincorporated residential neighborhoods as long as certain guidelines are met related to infrastructure, traffic and building size.
"Staff recognized that if you drive around your towns, you'll see churches and other religious institutions in neighborhoods," county board member Grant Eckhoff said. "However, times being what they are, the religious institutions now tend to draw from greater areas than they used to -- not just the local neighborhood."
Eckhoff said the goal of the zoning changes is to "try to balance the needs of religious institutions and neighborhoods."
DuPage officials said the zoning changes were needed because unincorporated residential areas don't have the infrastructure needed to support new places of assembly. Existing roads, sewers, and septic and well systems weren't designed for the uses, they argued. At one point, DuPage officials considered banning all new places of assembly in residential neighborhoods. But that controversial idea was dropped in favor of the changes that were unanimously adopted on Tuesday.
In addition prohibiting organizations from converting an existing single-family house into a place of worship, the new rules place greater restrictions on the size of religious buildings. Groups also will need their structures to be connected to public sewer and water service. To address concerns about traffic, places of assembly in residential areas will need to be built along major roads.
None of the new guidelines apply to projects already being considered by the county, including several proposed mosques.
Still, some said they believe several of the amendments, including the one about converting single-family houses, are too restrictive.
"When you look back 250 years on this continent, single-family homes have been the primary starting place for religious worship," said Mark Daniel, an attorney who represents several religious groups with zoning requests.
Others say they are concerned about the possibility of the new rules being misused sometime in the future.
Maryam Judar, a community lawyer at the Citizen Advocacy Center, said the Elmhurst-based center hopes "the zoning process is not abused to shut out those who are different from some of us and who seek to enhance their religious and spiritual life."