Church of Scientology pays fines for Flag Building in downtown Clearwater

St. Perterburg Times/October 7, 2011

Clearwater -- The Church of Scientology paid the city of Clearwater $413,500 in fines on Thursday, capping a five-year code enforcement battle over the church's downtown Flag Building.

City officials believe that may be the largest fine paid in Clearwater's history. The money will go into the city's general operating fund.

The church's payment came on the last day before deadline. Today, the fine would have reverted to more than $450,000 and the city would have begun its collections process, city attorney Pam Akin said. Among the options to collect the debt: foreclosure.

Beginning in 2006, the church was fined $250 a day for letting the Flag Building site degrade into an eyesore as construction stalled. Trash, overgrown grass and chain-link fencing ringed the seven-story shell.

After the building was finished in June, more than 12 years after work began, church representatives asked the city's Code Enforcement Board to reduce the fine by 90 percent.

City officials agreed to lower it to $413,500, reflecting delays due to city plan reviews. But the volunteer code board rejected any further reduction.

Scientology spokeswoman Pat Harney said after that ruling that the church would "consider its options" before paying. Ultimately, the church decided not to appeal the fines in court.

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