Brampton churches will keep tax-exempt status

  • March 6, 2008

BRAMPTON, Ont. - Despite some co-ordinated panic and frenzied e-mails, the City of Brampton is not about to start taxing churches or restricting new church building, city officials have told The Catholic Register.

Rumours the Flower City was about to crack down on congregations arose from an early draft of a consultant’s report that listed the tax status of non-worship space and the ratio of places of worship to the population as possible issues. Allegations that Brampton had gone Stalinist soon appeared on a blog called Members of the Brampton Faith Coalition began organizing protests against restrictions on new churches.

The rumours were based on very selective reading of a consultants’ report somebody snuck out of a meeting between city staff and local faith leaders, said Brampton city councillor Elaine Moore.

“We do not make decisions based on consultants’ reports. We make them based on staff reports,” said Moore.

When staff did report to Brampton’s local politicians Feb. 20 there was no mention of taxing church-based day cares or formulas that would restrict the number of allowable churches.

Brampton expects to begin a round of public consultations on its zoning policies as they apply to churches in late April or early May. Consultations will continue through the summer and any change in policy will not happen before fall, said Brampton’s director of planning Adrian Smith.

Some Brampton politicians do have concerns about how places of worship are developing in the ethnically and religiously diverse city just north of Toronto’s international airport.

Councillor Sandra Hames is worried that the churches are moving into older industrial parks and forcing out small- and medium-sized businesses.

“Is it more convenient for a place of worship to go into an industrial area? Probably it is,” Hames told the city’s planning, design and development committee Feb. 20. “But the downside to that is that we’re losing those small- to medium-sized businesses.”

But Hames’ worries are misplaced, said Bramalea Christian Fellowship pastor Randy Neilson of the Brampton Faith Coalition.

“Places of worship are not in competition with businesses,” he said.

Where churches and temples have moved into old warehouses in industrial parks it is because rents are cheap, the buildings are old and the businesses have already left, said Neilson.

Many business owners are grateful for the rent they collect from congregations, which are quiet, reliable tenants whose main impact on traffic is on Sunday mornings when the surrounding businesses are not typically operating, said Neilson.

The real problem for most faith communities is the cost of the land which Brampton officially designates for places of worship, said Sikh architect Major Singh. A 0.8-hectare site reserved for religious use in a residential neighbourhood can easily cost $2 million, plus $150,000 to $200,000 for development charges to the school boards.

While the cost of land is always an issue, neither the status of places of worship in industrial parks nor the traffic and parking problems caused by prayer meetings in people’s homes are issues for the Catholics, said archdiocese of Toronto director of planning and properties David Finnegan. The Catholic Church doesn’t seek to plant parishes in industrial parks nor does it try to incubate parishes in people’s homes.

The cost of a typical 2.5-hectare site for a Catholic parish with suburban parking needs is a major challenge, Finnegan said.

“Land acquisition is always expensive and the development charges are also an added cost to the planning for a new church,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

The archdiocese will follow and participate in Brampton’s public consultations over the summer, Finnegan said.

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