Inglewood overturns denial of permit to Scientologists

Los Angeles Wave/November 18, 2010

Inglewood - Members and supporters of the Church of Scientology celebrated Tuesday night after the city council voted 4-0 to overturn a planning commission decision to deny them a permit to use a two-story property they own on Market Street as a church.

The 11-month battle over the special use permit (SUP), which has been the subject of several public hearings, came to a close when the council adopted a resolution overturning the Planning Commission denial and made appropriate findings for their decision.

In the public comment portion of the hearing, four residents spoke against the appeal while ten members of the audience, including Edie Reuveni and Eden Stein, the respective Los Angeles and Pasadena presidents of the Church of Scientology, spoke in favor.

Planning commission members considered the church's application back in January, continued the matter in March and denied the request in April.

In a verbal background report to council, Christopher Jackson Sr., acting senior planner, explained that the commission cited four main reasons for rejecting the request: that the proposed church would negatively affect parking in the area; that the project would conflict with the city's general plan to create a retail/entertainment hub downtown; that there was substantial public opposition; and incompatibility with the surrounding area.

However, in a letter of appeal, the church rejected all of the commission's findings and cited federal law pertaining to the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act that could not bar a religious building if the general requirements for a special use permit had been met.

Thus, at a subsequent June public hearing the council sought direction from City Attorney Cal Saunders and in July referred the matter back to the planning commission to re-consider the legal and parking implications.

However, in August the commission upheld their denial despite Saunders signaling his interpretation that federal law would trump local jurisdiction.

Thus, the church now has the go-ahead to convert its 45,000 square-foot basement commercial building located at 315 South Market Steet, a property it purchased two years ago - outbidding the city's redevelopment agency - for about $5 million.

The site, a former retail jewelry store, had been empty for at least 12 years.

According to applicant's original proposal, the new space will feature a chapel/multi-purpose room, a display area, seminar rooms, course rooms, a 2,424 square-foot book store, exercise/sauna rooms and related offices.

The 1,855 square-foot chapel is scheduled to be used from 9 a.m-11 a.m. on Sundays and the remaining 28,774 square-feet of usuable floor area from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. on Sundays, and 9 a.m.- 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

During the Sunday gathering times, the counseling rooms will remained closed and the church indicated that it will employ two shifts of employees with a total 37 full and part-time staff members.

"I can't believe we've spent nearly a year on this," said Councilwoman Judy Dunlap, who introduced a motion to direct staff to prepare paperwork in overturning the commission denial.

"The zoning is appropriate and it is not in conflict with the general plan. The church clearly owns the property and I think they will be wonderful neighbors, bringing people into downtown. I believe that you'll see the blight that so many people talk about begin to change and that area will start to flourish."

Reuveni, speaking just after the decision, agreed.

"I think it's terriific because I think it's really going to add something to the community," she told The Wave.

"We have so many outreach programs and they're free of charge and they help and they're successful. I work with many clergy and most of them are using our anti-drug program. That is the one most needed and wanted in Los Angeles so I'm looking forward to working with Inglewood."

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