Posted in Design & Architecture
on November 3, 2014 9:44 am EST
Taking the Car to Church
How to strategically plan adequate parking for your church projects, amid a sea of varying city ordinances and misconceptions.
Getting parking wrong can hobble a church. Worship space that seats 1,000 won’t, if folks have nowhere to put their car. Multiplying services and moving small groups off site can distribute the load across time and geography, but don’t really change the rules. Requirements for seating vary with the age of the occupants and with pedagogical method and style. Rules for parking, where they exist, are invariably set by local zoning ordinances.
Parking requirements in the United States vary dramatically from one city to another, driven by a range of attitudes toward access, the urban environment, cost of development and sustainability. What do most ordinances have in common?
But as architect Seth Goodman recently and elegantly illustrated (visit link
), what should be a straightforward exercise isn’t. Parking requirements in the United States vary dramatically from one city to another, driven by a range of attitudes toward access, the urban environment, cost of development and sustainability. What do most ordinances have in common? They’re horribly wrong.Complexity and mobility
Most zoning ordinances require one car for every three or four seats in the main auditorium—a standard that made sense when white-gloved families shared a sedan or walked to a neighborhood church. Both the ordinances and Goodman’s analysis still live in that world. Goodman compares parking requirements to the area of a traditional worship space and labels them hypocritically extravagant. Had he understood that worship space constitutes less than 20% of a typical church campus, he’d have realized that parking requirements for churches more closely approach those of an office building.
Those white-glove days are past, of course. Ministry schedules are complex. At one time, one of our sons served on the media team, one in college ministry, our daughter was on a praise team, and my wife and I taught. We carpooled when we could, but it seemed like the five of us took six cars to church. We were joined by hundreds of others from across the region at a church five miles away from our house. And that was just on Sunday. These patterns of space utilization, ministry and mobility conspire to suggest that churches provide nearly twice the legal minimum—up to one space for 1.8 to two attendees. When built to these standards, many new churches end up looking like shopping malls—lonely structures waiting for Mount Ararat to poke from an asphalt flood. Land costs attract churches to rural or exurban sites, where they need new infrastructure to create new traffic. The irony is that parking becomes an isolating, rather than a facilitating, mechanism.Remedies
The good news is younger adults are less likely to own a car than their parents, (visit link
). But the need for parking isn’t going away anytime soon. In the meantime, what can be done?Sharing
Churches located in urban areas already bloated with parking should arrange to share. Such arrangements can reduce or eliminate the need for new pavement. Most codes allow the use of parking for which formal sharing agreements or easements exist to satisfy zoning requirements. Although most ministries talk about being “seven-day” churches, many are still unoccupied for large blocks of time and can offer something back to their neighbors.