The Sandy Springs City Council can’t talk about the latest developments in an ongoing lawsuit filed against it by the Church of Scientology. But the city’s residents are talking, and they don’t like where things are headed.
At its Feb. 21 meeting City Attorney Wendell Willard said the lawsuit, filed in federal court, is headed to court-ordered mediation. The City Council in 2009 approved the church’s application to open at 5395 Roswell Road, but did not allow the church to expand space at the building because of limited parking, sparking a lawsuit that alleged the city violated the church’s religious freedom.
Hundreds of residents in the city’s neighborhoods opposed the 2009 zoning application, and that sentiment hasn’t faded with time. At the High Point Civic Association’s Feb. 28 meeting, the association’s outgoing zoning Chairwoman Jane Kelley conducted an informal poll of members.
“I would like to do just a quick straw poll of members tonight to see what your sentiment is on whether we should support the city’s assertion that they stick with the decision to deny this zoning application, which is what we have asserted for three years,” Kelley said. “Anybody in favor of the city sticking with what they have asserted so far? Please raise your hand.”
Most of the people in the room put a hand in the air.
Attempts to reach an attorney for the church for comment have been unsuccessful.
Civic Association President Zach Wilson said since 2009 the residents have worried that the church would ultimately prevail, but said the civic association would need to survey the city’s neighborhoods before taking an official position.
“We want what’s best for the neighborhoods and there was pretty strong opposition to it,” Wilson said.
Councilman Tibby DeJulio, who attended the civic association meeting, said he’d received feedback from the residents on the issue, but said he couldn’t comment further because the lawsuit is ongoing.
City resident Robin Beechey, who has been a vocal opponent of the church’s application, said the council will face pressure from the public to stick to its guns. The council in 2009 split 3-3 on the zoning application, with Galambos casting the tie-breaking vote.
“I just want to put down a marker to indicate that there are many hundreds of local citizens who will be watching carefully to ensure that an unsatisfactory compromise does not emerge,” he told the City Council on Feb. 21.
In this video: Jane Kelley, outgoing zoning chairwoman for the High Point Civic Association, on Feb. 28 asks members whether they support the city council’s 2009 decision to limit the size of the Church of Scientology building on Roswell Road.