By Amy Wenk
The new year will bring a new chapter in the Scientology saga.
Just minutes after the Sandy Springs City Council granted the Church of Scientology permission to relocate its congregation to the office building at Roswell Road and Glenridge Drive, attorney Woody Galloway announced the church’s intention to sue the city.
“That is the plan to file a lawsuit in both federal and superior court,” Galloway said at the Dec. 15 meeting. “It’s clearly a case of discrimination. They imposed standards on the Church of Scientology they have not imposed on any other church in Fulton County or the city of Sandy Springs.”
The case has already ensued 10 months of rezoning hearings and four deferrals, as well as inspired more than 700 residents to sign petitions in opposition.
Council finally voted on the case, but the 3 to 3 stalemate forced Mayor Eva Galambos to cast the tie-breaking vote that approved the church’s rezoning but turned down its request to enclose the basement floor of the building. The renovation would add more than 10,000 additional square feet but reduce parking by 30 spaces. Parking and traffic have been major contentions along the way.
“It is absolutely clear, based on the studies that we submitted that we are not going to generate a parking problem,” Galloway said. “Staff reviewed those studies. They confirmed there is not a parking problem. They confirmed there is not a traffic problem. So what is the problem?”
Galloway said the church has 30 days to file litigation and that it will be around six months to one year before the case goes before a judge. He added the church will not rest until it wins approval for the expanded building.
“I think it will come down to money, how much more the Church of Scientology is willing to pay,” said Matthew Hurley, a Marietta activist who has videotaped each rezoning meeting since the issue debuted in March. Hurley worked for the Church of Scientology as a freelance filmmaker in California. “I think after 10 months, this should run its course. The Church of Scientology bought this building with their eyes wide open. They knew what they were getting into.”
Other parties like opposing residents can file suit against Council’s decision in the next 30 days. No lawsuits have been confirmed but questions linger about the church’s right to parking easements on the site.
“I’ll be surprised if we file suit,” said Jane Kelley, zoning chair of the High Point Civic Association that represents 500 homeowners. “There have been no discussions so far.”