Experts say city of Tampa violated zoning for Scientologists

10 Connect TV News, Tampa/May 14, 2010

Tampa, Florida - It is one of Tampa's most famous building complexes, dating back to 1886. Ybor Square, which houses the Spaghetti Warehouse and Creative Loafing newspaper, is owned by the Church of Scientology. As a religious building, the church will be exempt from paying almost $75,000 in property taxes.

Vince Pardo, the head of the Ybor Community Development District, says that is a big concern, because the taxes generated are the budget for Ybor City.

Pardo says he is also worried about the Scientologists taking up the limited parking spaces in the district. But the biggest question is how the Scientologists got approval from the city and zoning administrator Catherine Coyle, because places of religious assembly are prohibited in that part of Ybor City.

Coyle told us it was approved, because the Church said it was basically for office space. However, we reminded Coyle the Scientologists told the city they would conduct Sunday morning services and would use the office space to conduct their religious services.

At that point, Coyle changed her stance and said even though there was some religious activity that would be held there, it was considered an accessory use. When we reminded Coyle that an accessory use as a religious place of assembly is also prohibited, she then changed her stance again and said it was a place of assembly.

While Coyle says there was no way she could restrict religious activity at the project, experts say she is dead wrong.

Land use attorney Mark Bentley is an adjunct professor at USF and teaches land use to grad students. He says to him, it is clear and there is no debate. Bentley says the city jumped the gun.

We contacted the Church of Scientology, but it didn't have any comment.

Truly this is a problem with city zoning, not the church. Opponents have until June 5 to appeal the ruling. Some say they are worried about taking on the powerful church.

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