Sandy Springs grants church expansion

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

With a packed house looking on Tuesday night, the Sandy Springs City Council approved a request by the Church of Scientology to expand its facility near the corner of Roswell Road and Glendridge Drive.

The 5-1 vote ended a three-year battle the church has waged to add 12,000 square feet to a former office building it has occupied since 2009.

"It's been a long struggle," said attorney William Woodson Galloway, who represented the church. "We think the City Council did the right thing in approving the settlement."

A crowd of about 50 church members were on hand to speak in support of the expansion.

But opposition was no less vocal.

"We won the argument but lost the decision," said Robin Beechey, who represents the Willow Glen Condominium Association.

The City Council granted the church permission to occupy the site in late 2009, but it would not approve the expansion then because planners deemed there was a deficiency in parking spaces at the site. Soon after, the church filed suit in federal District Court.

Last year, a federal judge upheld the city's decision to limit the size of the church based on its on-site parking, but it also ordered both sides to mediate their differences.

Church leaders returned to City Council last month, saying they had spent an additional $300,000 in engineering and modifications to attain the 130 parking spaces the city said it needed to accommodate the expansion. Council members delayed a decision until this month after residents opposed to the expansion said they had not been given enough time to mount a case against the new proposal.

Tuesday night, opponents argued that 80 of the parking spaces "serve only the designated use" by being located on land owned by the church. For the parking to count toward the 130 spaces the City's Zoning Ordinance requires it to be dedicated parking. The remaining 50 are on land owned by the Post Office over which the applicants have only a "non-exclusive" easement.

But attorneys for the city pointed out that if the case went back to court, the church would cite two previous zoning variances relating to on-site parking that were granted to other church interests in the past.

Councilwoman Karen McEnerny, who voted in support of the measure, said she regretted having granted the variances in the past, but she felt compelled to afford the Church of Scientology the same accommodation.

Councilman Tibby DeJulio cast the only vote against the measure.

Resident Brian Daughdrill was not convinced by the council's reasoning.

"This is based on two previous zoning decisions, so they're going to compound two wrongs with another wrong," he said.

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