By Amy Wenk
The Church of Scientology again went before the Sandy Springs Planning Commission on July 16 but this time won approval to use its property at the intersection of Roswell Road and Glenridge Drive for a church.
The congregation will move from its current location in Dunwoody to the more-than-32,000-square-foot facility in Sandy Springs if the City Council votes for approval Aug. 18. But if the council adopts the conditions passed by the Planning Commission, the church will not have the right to increase the square footage of the former real estate office at 5395 Roswell Road.
As part of a planned $3 million renovation to the interior of building, the Church of Scientology proposed enclosing the 30-car underground parking deck to add more than 10,000 square feet for a sanctuary, additional office space and classrooms.
But city staff announced at the first commission meeting on the application May 21 that approval would not include the increase in square footage. The basement construction would reduce parking from 111 to 81 spaces, and staff analyzed each use of the building, such as classroom and office space, to calculate a need for 148 spaces.
The Planning Commission deferred a decision May 21 to allow the church to conduct a parking analysis to justify only 81 spaces.
The city received a parking study June 26 conducted by Kimley-Horn Associates of Norcross. The analysis evaluated the 38,000-square-foot Scientology church in Nashville and the 11,500-square-foot facility in Dunwoody and concluded the future congregation of Sandy Springs required no more than 60 parking spaces.
The study “found no other instance” in Sandy Springs or Fulton County that required “a church provide parking for its sanctuary, classrooms and offices as if they were independent uses,” the church’s attorney, Woody Galloway, said in a July 8 letter to the Planning Commission.
Staff “is in effect recommending to you that you discriminate against the Church of Scientology based on the method and manner in which they practice religion,” Galloway said. “You should not let this happen.”
Los Angeles resident Bob Adams, the vice president of Church of Scientology International, attended the July meeting to clear “misconceptions” about the space needed.
“It was discovered based on best use that the minimum requirement for the Church of Scientology to effectively service its parishioners was no less than 40,000 feet,” Adams said. “The reason it requires that many square feet is that much of the area is public.”
Adams said religious services would be difficult without added room in the basement. “We can’t do without it.”
Regardless, the commission approved the application under the condition the structure not exceed its current square footage. That means parking will remain at 111 spaces.
Other conditions included limiting the hours from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., paying for sidewalks along the street, and prohibiting overnight stays and Narconon meetings.
“I really think the staff is right on with this one,” commission Vice Chairman Wayne Thatcher said.
Board member Susan Maziar cast the only vote in opposition.
“I’m concerned about the future, the growth of the church,” she said. “I share the concerns of the neighbors who have spoken. I think it is a little intense for the site.”
Six people spoke for denial, including architect Daniel Hubbell, a resident of Courtyards of Glenridge who conducted an analysis of the application on behalf of opposing citizens.
“In my professional opinion, the new church use as programmed is too intensive for this property,” Hubbell said.
Since the plans went public March 24, more than 400 neighbors have signed petitions opposing the application. Top concerns have remained inadequate parking and increased traffic congestion.