City Considers Zoning Ordinance to Halt Church Growth

( [email protected] ) Oct 28, 2003 09:59 AM EST

STAFFORD TX. – The Stafford City Council is considering a zoning ordinance to ban the construction or expansion of religious buildings in half of the city on behalf of economic benefits for the region.

Unlike most cities, Stafford has no property tax; instead, it relies on sales taxes, franchise taxes and other fees for the city fund. Therefore, Churches are not an economically sound investment, since they do not produce revenue.

Should the ordinance pass, the 16 religious institutions in the specified zone would be prohibited from expanding.

However, the mayor of Stafford, Leonard Scarcella, who has been in office for 34 years, explains that the call is not anti-religious.

"Nobody wants to send a message that we're against religion because we're not," said Scarcella.

According to Scarcella, with 55 centers in the city, there are already more than enough religious organizations. The city averages one religious institution for every eight acres. Several that have located in Stafford have done so in just the last few years. And many members of congregations travel from outside of the city to attend services.

"We welcome them here," Scarcella said. "A lot of them visit our restaurants and other businesses while they are here."

Nonetheless, the religious leaders in the area believe the ordinance restricts the potential of church growth.

"People should have freedom to set up churches. It is their religious freedom," said Daniel Teng, a worshipper at Houston's Evangelical Formosan Church.

The Rev. James Akindude, pastor of Celestial Church of Christ, Stafford Parish, said, "They should not limit churches because we need more churches than nightclubs and strip joints. The establishment of churches really contributes to moral consciousness of society."

"People need a place to worship," said the Rev. Peter Tuck Soon Leong, pastor of Stafford's Chinese Baptist Church. "They shouldn't restrict us."

Leong said his own church started as a mission of Houston's Westbury Baptist Church. The congregation bought 11 acres of land in Stafford about seven years ago and built a church there because the property was affordable.

"Now we're too crowded," he said. The church plans to begin construction of a $1.3 million family life center around the first of the year and hopes to build an even larger worship center after that, Leong said.

Stafford's zoning issue has come up in two public hearings already and will probably be considered in at least one more next month. At the earliest, Scarcella said, the ordinance would take effect early next year.