Editor’s Note: With the fate of the Church of Scientology’s rezoning request to move its headquarters into property on Roswell Road still undecided, the Sandy Springs Reporter asked representatives from both sides to state their case.
Against: This is about overdevelopment
Sandy Springs residents in the opposition group were frustrated yet again by a third deferral of the Church of Scientology rezoning issue in October after “new material” was submitted by the applicant — without required public notice or proper consideration by the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission voted in September to deny the application entirely.
The applicant’s latest proposal attempts to assuage concerns about inadequate parking by squeezing 111 surface spaces where 81 exist now. This would be partly achieved by merely re-striping the lot, but the following site alterations would also be necessary:
– Carving into three formerly landscaped areas to create space for 19 parking spaces, 12 of which are in the 40-foot Roswell Road setback.
– Seeking relief entirely from the zoning requirement to provide “islands” with “shade trees” every six spaces.
– Removing four existing trees (which likely violates our “tree canopy” requirement).
The applicant plans to offer classes and counseling sessions day and night, seven days a week. A city transportation expert even made the comparison to a junior college. And the local Scientology spokesperson, Deb Danos, was quoted as saying “We have about 600 active members, 200 that are regular attendees, and then on our rolls there have been literally thousands. I would say pretty close to 10,000 that have joined since the inception of the organization in Atlanta.” With a purchase price of $5.6 million, plus a proposed renovation cost of $3.5 million, they surely will be expecting a payback.
The applicant also proposes limiting occupancy to 170 people under certain circumstances. Based on their own parking study figures, 170 people would require 162 parking spaces. That is 50 spaces underparked, even if they reduce the greenspace to provide more asphalt. And how would such an occupancy cap be enforced? Would our police have to count people entering the building instead of fighting crime? According to the Planning Commission, an occupancy cap is nearly unenforceable.
The opposition residents see no good reason for the Planning Commission or Mayor and City Council to allow these departures from normal zoning requirements, particularly since this property is already overdeveloped. This applicant is asking for preferential treatment. This is NOT a religious issue — it’s about overdevelopment, inadequate parking and creating a public safety hazard at a dangerous intersection. This site is unsuitable for increased density and insufficient parking for ANY organization.
We strongly oppose the expansion of the building and allowing inadequate parking.
Jane Kelley is the zoning chairperson for High Point Civic Association
For: Reasons for denial of request not legitimate
The Church of Scientology of Georgia, Inc., purchased approximately two acres on the northeast corner of Roswell Road and Glenridge Drive in 2005. The church plans to renovate the three-story building and use it solely for church purposes. Although the property is zoned O&I (Office & Institutional), and O&I allows for churches as a permitted use, the church needs to change a condition of the existing zoning to allow use as a church.
From the onset of our application for our variances, public opposition stemmed from parking and traffic issues. Lack of sufficient parking was the stated issue, claiming that our use would cause a traffic problem. However, our original application met the city’s parking requirement for churches. To address issues raised by area residents, the church on its own accord and own expense, had parking studies done by expert engineers. Sandy Springs even had their own traffic engineer study the issue confirming that our parking proposal would have little if any impact on traffic.
The revised application, which will be considered by the Planning Commission and the City Council, addresses the concerns regarding parking and traffic in two substantive ways. First, the church has agreed to make modifications to the property to provide 111 parking spaces. Every space is located behind the existing brick wall which fronts on Roswell Road and Glenridge Drive. Secondly, the church has agreed to limit the total occupancy of the building to 170 people based on the parking provided. The city could not require these conditions without the church’s consent; however, the church is willing to agree to them to demonstrate that we are cooperative and to demonstrate goodwill to the city and community.
Based on these changes, the city’s Community Development staff has recommended approval of our request and has specifically found that the parking proposed will meet the needs of the church.
In summary, even before we agreed to voluntarily limit the occupancy to 170 people, the city traffic engineer stated numerous times that our changes create no problems. In fact the current zoning and use would generate more traffic, especially during peak traffic times, and with an occupancy limit of 170 people, it is clear that church use will not create a traffic problem. Therefore it is clear that parking and traffic are not legitimate reasons to deny this rezoning request.
Deb Danos is special affairs director for the Church of Scientology.