By Amy Wenk
Many residents came out Oct. 20 to speak against the Church of Scientology’s request to relocate its Georgia headquarters to Sandy Springs. Presentations were prepared and other activities put off.
But that time and energy was without reward. Sandy Springs City Council for the third time postponed a decision on the rezoning request that seeks permission to hold religious services at 5395 Roswell Road.
“We’re distressed that this should have to go back because of a procedural defect,” said a vocal citizen, Robin Beechey, a Willow Glen Condominiums resident and homeowner representative.
The board deferred the application because new conditions were added that require review. The Planning Commission (which last month voted to deny the application) will again hear the case Nov. 19. City Council should vote Dec. 15.
“This thing has been going on forever,” said Dist. 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio, who made the motion to defer. “This is one of these that won’t go away. Let’s see if we can’t get this thing right this time.”
Residents agree. Since the application was introduced this spring, 16 civic or neighborhood associations have made formal statements in opposition, and the city has received more than 600 signatures on petitions.
“Zoning is a slow process as you are finding out,” said Mayor Eva Galambos to those citizens who attended the Tuesday night meeting, many wearing stickers that demanded the case be denied.
“We are very disappointed that this has come to another delay,” said 19-year resident Jane Kelley, zoning chair for the High Point Civic Association, which represents 500 homeowners.
“We have worked very hard to get to this evening,” noted Patty Burns, resident of Round Hill Condominiums. “We were hoping it would be over.”
The Church of Scientology is asking to relocate from North Shallowford Road in Dunwoody to the property it purchased in 2005 at the intersection of Glenridge Drive and Roswell Road. Rezoning is needed because the four-level former real estate office is only zoned for office use.
The latest conditions amend the Scientologists’ original plan by restriping the parking lot and paving areas for a total of 111 spaces while allowing the congregation to enclose the basement parking garage for more than 10,000 extra square feet. The conditions also call for a capacity cap of 170 people.
The changes address the parking and traffic concerns of residents, said Bob Adams, vice president of public affairs for the Church of Scientology International, based in Los Angeles.
“We are working in the spirit of cooperation to mollify the concerns about public safety,” Adams said. “We are doing all we can. Making these changes as an attempt to compromise and show good faith is not inexpensive in time or resources.”
Deb Danos, special affairs director for the Church of Scientology of Georgia, was hopeful about the delayed process.
“We just want everything to be done by the books,” she said. The congregation would “rather go slow and get it right … I’m sure it will all work out.”