By Amy Wenk
A decision has yet to be reached on the Church of Scientology’s request to rezone property at the intersection of Roswell Road and Glenridge Drive.
The Sandy Springs Planning Commission voted May 21 to defer the case for 60 days because the applicant didn’t agree with the planning staff’s proposed conditions, which included an increase in the required number of parking spaces.
But even with those conditions, the Scientologists’ application might have a tough time, based on Planning Commission Chairman Lee Duncan’s comments to the church’s attorney, Woody Galloway of Dillard & Galloway.
“I have known you for a long time, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for your powers of persuasion,” Duncan told Galloway. “My strong suggestion is you might want to do a contingency plan.”
The church, now in Dunwoody, wants to occupy a former real estate office at 5395 Roswell Road. Rezoning is necessary because current conditions limit the site to office and professional use.
The application also seeks permission to enclose the 30-car underground parking deck for a sanctuary, additional office space and classrooms as part of the church’s planned $3 million renovation of the interior. The modification would increase the four-level structure from about 32,000 to more than 43,000 square feet, while reducing parking from 111 to 81 spaces.
The city staff is not in favor of the increase in square footage, citing a lack of parking for the church, which has 600 active members.
Normally, the staff would analyze the parking needs of a church based on the size of the largest public assembly area. But because the Church of Scientology’s sanctuary makes up less than 5 percent of the total floor area, the staff analyzed each use of the building (like office and classroom space) in regards to parking and calculated a need for 148 spaces.
Galloway disputed that finding, calling it “not right and not fair.”
“To my knowledge, there has not ever been another church that has been asked to do this (parking) ratio we are looking at,” he said. “We object to that and don’t feel like it’s appropriate. We don’t feel like it complies with the religious land use. … Just from an equal-protection, a fundamental fairness question, you know and I know that you can’t set one standard here and another standard there.”
But approval, staff said, should come only if the structure remains at the original density. Other conditions include limiting the hours from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., paying for sidewalks along the street, and prohibiting overnight stays and Narconon meetings.
City officials, however, will consider the higher square footage requested if the applicant conducts a parking study “that would verify the demands of parking on site,” Galloway said.
“To that end, we would like an opportunity to do that,” he said, explaining the deferral.
Several city residents spoke for denial.
Since the plans were discussed at a community meeting April 23, the city has received from neighbors at least 250 signatures on petitions opposing the application. Those opposed cite inadequate parking and increased traffic congestion as top concerns.
“Historically, when a mega church enters a neighborhood and it is not the proper fit, it brings about many problems,” neighbor Patty Burns, a Round Hill Condominium resident, wrote in a May 7 letter to Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny. “This will hurt the marketability of our homes, our neighborhood and will place a strain on our taxes.”