Church of Scientology requests fine reduction

Fox News 13, Florida/August 12, 2011

Clearwater -- Clearwater's Municipal Code Enforcement Board will consider a request to reduce a $451,500 penalty imposed against the Church of Scientology. That figure represents a $250-per-day fine that continued for nearly five years when work stopped on the "Mecca Building" in downtown Clearwater.

"In the years when there was nothing happening, there were a lot of complaints," city spokesperson Joelle Castelli explained. "It was unsightly, the landscaping was overgrown, it looked like it was an abandoned shell of a building."

Construction started in March of 2000 but stopped sometime in 2004, with the initial building permit expiring in November 2004. A notice of violation was issued in February 2006.

The exterior shell passed an inspection this past June, and the daily penalty stopped. A spokesperson for the Church of Scientology said interior work is still underway and an opening date has not been set.

The 300,000 square foot Mecca Building covers an entire city block and the construction was valued at $32 million, according to a building permit. When it is finished, it will be Scientology's premiere education center, with "course and counseling" facilities for 1,300 parishioners at a time.

Scientology calls Clearwater its "Flag Land Base" and the Church owns numerous downtown properties to accommodate visitors from around the world.

The Code Enforcement Board will consider the request to reduce the construction penalty August 24th.

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