The Church of Scientology buys land in West Chatswood for $37 million to build new Australasian headquarters

The Daily Telegraph, Australia/November 2, 2014

By Annette Sharp and Ian Walker

The Church of Scientology has quietly snapped up a large tract of land on Sydney’s leafy North Shore where it hopes to build a new base for the religion in the southern hemisphere and usher in a new “golden age”.

The land in West Chatswood, which cost the church $37 million, will be the site of a sprawling new facility called the Ideal Advanced Organisation and Continental Base for Australia and the Asiatic region.

David Miscavige, the chairman of the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) and former best man of Scientology poster boy Tom Cruise, spoke publicly last month for the first time about the organisation’s plans to kickstart a “golden age” in Sydney.

At a Freedom Medal ceremony in Sussex on October 17, at which Australia’s highest profile Scientologist singer Kate Ceberano was presented with the secretive organisation’s highest award, Mr Miscavige revealed the redevelopment plans to an assembly of 7500 members.

The vast new facility, that will overlook Lane Cove National Park, will open seven days a week, from 8.30am-9.30pm, as both an administrative and theological operation and a place for public worship.

“Here, Scientologists from Tasmania to Tokyo will traverse the upper realms of the Bridge to Total Freedom,” the website reported of Mr Miscavige’s announcement at Sussex.

Mr Miscavige, the powerful leader of the organisation since 1987 following the death of founder and pulp fiction writer L Ron Hubbard in 1986, had visited Sydney in May to preside over the opening of Scientology’s refurbished city centre in Castlereagh Street — referred to by the Church of Scientology Australia’s (CSA) as “Ideal Org”.

That same month the CSA purchased the National Acoustic Laboratory site at 126 Greville Street, West Chatswood, paying $33 million for the 3.5 hectare site. It also bought two adjoining properties at 23 and 25 Millwood Avenue for $2 million each. They had sold less than a decade earlier for $752,500 and $801,500.

The purchase ended a decade of community debate over the Greville Street site which for 70 years was an Army rifle range before the construction of the National Acoustic Laboratory and Ultrasonics Institute in 1987.

In 2003, a syndicate of new owners spearheaded by Greg Shand’s Barana Group began 10 years of unsuccessful submissions to Willoughby Council to have the site rezoned Medium Density Residential, initiating a battle with the local community resistant to increased traffic in the area.

Recently Willoughby Council approved CSA’s application for R3 rezoning of the site after the new owners agreed to retain an existing main three-four level building with 14,224m2 floorspace, install acoustic fencing to reduce noise and retain bushland and public access to the site.

Council is also looking at constructing a bus layover to reduce traffic.

Scientology spokeswoman Virginia Stewart confirmed a DA has been lodged with local council.

“We have been seeking a suitable Sydney location to consolidate our ecclesiastical management offices,” she said. “The ecclesiastical management liaison headquarters is responsible for coordinating Scientology’s religious services as well as a wide range of social betterment and community activities.

“We are engaged internationally on building purchase for all our existing churches and full renovations and establishment of ideal facilities for our church buildings to enable our many community programs to be facilitated.”

Ms Stewart did not have a projected date for the opening of the proposed new centre.

In May, the enigmatic Mr Miscavige said of his plans for Sydney: “There’s a new sign in the southern night skies and it points to something never seen before — your Ideal Org of Sydney.

“You now possess the means — in this, our Golden Age — to uplift this city and this nation with the unqualified freedom of Scientology.”

A Willoughby City Council spokeswoman said the development application had not yet been approved and was open for public submission.

“It’s still in an early stage and because of the nature and size of the development it goes to the Joint Regional Planning Panel,” she said.

The JRPP assessing the DA will be made up of Department of Planning representatives as well as Willoughby Mayor Councillor Gail Giles-Gidney.

“They will get a briefing on the DA in November then probably won’t approve it until early next year,” the spokeswoman said.

“So at the moment our officers are going through and assessing the traffic, bushfire and environmental risks and that gets presented to the JRPP.”

Chatswood West Progress Association member Ian Tanner, 71, who has lived in Millwood Ave for 36 years, said the development was better than new houses being built.

“Well I think it’s a lot better than having 56 townhouses beside my house and having five years of construction activity as well so I think it’s a better outcome all things considered,” he said.

“But they’re going to have 460 to 500 people on the site seven days a week so it’s going to be a busy little place.

“They’re making it user friendly to their staff. They’ve got two or three bus loads bringing in 180 people each day.

“You have to see how it pans out but in theory it should be all right. They’ve got quite an extensive car park their already for about 120 cars. They’re going to encourage people to use public transport.

“I don’t know what they stand for, I think they stand for a few problems but I’m not affected by them at this stage.”

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