Planning Commission votes to deny Scientology dormitory on Central Avenue

Wyandotte Daily, Kansas/September 15, 2020

The City Planning Commission on Monday night voted to deny a special use permit for a Church of Scientology dormitory and communal living space at 2220 Central Ave.

The vote was 5-3 to deny the permit because of the number of people living there. The board was meeting in a remote Zoom meeting.

The building is the former Catholic Charities – Bishop Sullivan Center, which included meeting rooms, offices and areas to have classes.

Maggie Kittinger of the Church of Scientology of Kansas City said at the meeting that the building would be used only for housing, with no classrooms. It would be only for staff, she said.

She said about 50 staff members would live there, mainly single persons. Only two have vehicles, and so there would not be a parking problem, according to Kittinger. The staff would travel in vans to the Church of Scientology building at 1805 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Missouri. Their work would be out in the community, according to the planning staff report. They would leave the Central Avenue building in the morning and return at night, she said. They would be quiet, and would not make a lot of noise, she stated in the planning staff report.

At this time it was not certain if they would add another 125 staff members who would live there, she added. The planning staff report stated that the building would not be open to the public at this time.

Only two persons spoke at a public hearing Monday night.

A resident who lives next to the building said she did not want the interaction of her children in her backyard with church members.

At the meeting, the planning director stated that the surrounding housing in the neighborhood is either single-family or duplex, and the zoning for the building was for two-family. But on the west side of the property, there was apartment zoning, the planning staff report stated.

Paul Soptick, president of the Wyandotte Countians Against Crime, said communal living would be detrimental to the neighborhood.

The UG planning staff had recommended approval, with a number of stipulations, including the maximum number of people who could live there would be 50. Gunnar Hand, planning director, said they had not heard of opposition until two persons spoke on Monday night.

Hand said it would take a significant amount of work to bring the building up to code and renovate it for housing, which would be reviewed by UG staff. The applicant proposed to build 40 bedrooms, with four persons in each room, or six in some rooms, according to the planning staff report.

Planning Commission member Susannah Pauley made a motion for denial based on the number of people living on the site. There was a short discussion with the UG attorney concerning the basis of the motion, to make sure the motion was not based on any opposition on religious reasons, but on the number of people at the site.

Karen Jones of the Planning Commission, who voted against the motion to deny, said there was a level of discomfort, and she was picking up on some level of religious concern.

The special use permit next goes to the UG Commission to be heard at 7 p.m. Oct. 1 via Zoom.

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