Sister Aimee’s church is now preaching real estate development

Rendering of proposed Montecito Heights project/Ferrier Architecture Studio

It has been about 80 years since the church of Aimee Semple McPherson, the famed evangelist whose domed Angelus Temple sits across from Echo Park Lake, purchased about 30 acres of  hillside property between Lincoln Heights and Montecito Heights. On hills more than 800 feet high, the church built a radio tower to broadcast Sister Aimee’s sermons and other religious programs but the left  most of the land remained undeveloped except for some narrow dirt lanes that cut across grassy fields. But now the Church of the Foursquare Gospel has put neighbors on notice that its hilltop holdings – including Flat Top, a popular neighborhood gathering spot and view point –  are ready for development. Last November, a developer working with Foursquare gave residents a sneak peak at a proposal to build more than 30 homes on streets that would loop around the existing transmission towers.  The developer and church officials are scheduled to return to a community meeting on Feb. 16 to provide more info. But many Montecito Heights residents say the church faces a tough sell.

The land might be privately owned but decades of residents have long considered a shared space. “The simplest way to make a synopsis is that everyone in our community has used that open space as their own public land,” said Montecito Heights resident Scott Rubel.  “It is full of coyote and hawks and rabbits and everything else. Over the past eight years there have been possibly up to eight sightings of a mountain lion. It’s part of the little open space left in Los Angeles, and the benefit to our community is that it is view shed.”

Transmission towers are located in the middle of the church owned property.

Roy Payan, President of the Montecito Heights Improvement Assn., said he’s highly skeptical the developers could sell the homes at prices that could cover the high costs of building new streets, utilities. His group is not opposed to development but Paytan and others have expressed concerns about grading the hillsides, the impact on wildlife and additional traffic congestion on Montecito Drive,  which would serve as the only access to the new homes.  The construction of new streets could open the door to the construction of more homes in the years ahead, said other residents.

Officials with Foursquare and developer Vince Daly did not return calls or emails seeking comment.

Payan, whose remembers running across the hills as a member of the Lincoln High cross country team,  said he would prefer if Foursquare was able to sell the property to the Santa Monica Conservancy or other agency that could keep the hills open to the public.  Foursquare could then take the money to develop property on some place flat, he said.

“They would be better  served and buy a piece of land that is flat … and more conducive to development.”

Daly and Foursquare officials will be present during the meeting of the Montecito Heights Improvement Assn. on Thursday, Feb. 16 at 7 pm. The meeting will be held at the Montecito Heights Senior Center, 4545 Homer Street.

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  1. If there are some who aren’t sure which area they are trying to level you can see a better picture of the hill (left side) at http://www.montecitohts.org/ . It’s a definite part of the landscape going down the 110 and I always associated it with the area being untouched. I can’t imagine it with modern housing on top.

  2. Well, it is a shame to lose that undeveloped area. But as development goes, I don’t see anything really wrong with their proposal. They are merely planning a bit more than 30 single family houses, not some big condo development. That isn’t going to have any significant impact on traffic on the streets. Even at rush hour, I would doubt you would see more than 3-5 extra cars on the road at any 15-minute interval.

    As for their selling price afterward, that is their worry and concern, no impact on the community. And I would not presume they plan to sell. They are building a large senior housing complex across from their temple now, and in that vain, this might be more housing to rent out.

    To date, the community has had a temporary free gift of park land. Neither the city nor anyone else paid for it. They could have had it fenced off all this time, but they did not, allowed community use. No one came forward and offered to pay so it could remain for park use forever. Now they want to use it, and have a very modest proposal to do so. They could have sought to build a big condo complex, as is being planned for a similar size property next to Elysian Park by Barlow Hospital. But the temple has shown good restraint.

    It look to me like if you don’t want it, the only recourse is to inquire if the temple would be interested instead in selling it for park use, to the city. (Personally, I don;t like it when the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy gets mixed up with things outside the mountains.)

  3. This church doesn’t care what the community thinks, and has never felt the need to “sell” any project to the community.

    Look at the crap they threw up in Echo Park (They City Bank building, the 5 story parking lot, the giant apartment complex across from the church), without any consideration for size or neighbors.

    Did I mention tax free?

  4. Why must we still plant palm trees on top of hills?

  5. Sorry for my swearing.

    Yeah just because Daly put out these nice little drawings doesn’t mean he won’t build some ugly ass box tan tuscan mediterrean houses like we have all over these hills lately.

    Hope he gets lost.

  6. I know development is something we all need to get used to, but I completely agree that this land should be treated as a natural treasure. As a meager compromise, can’t they propose half as development and the other sold to the city as parkland? If this church group has not made an effort to do right by the community yet, more pressure should be put on them to do so now.

    And I agree, palm trees? Seriously? If this doe get developed, the city should require them to plant all native!

  7. She came from Providence,
    the one in Rhode Island
    Where the old world shadows hang
    heavy in the air
    She packed her hopes and dreams
    like a refugee
    Just as her father came across the sea

    She heard about a place people were simlin’
    They spoke about the red man’s way,
    and how they loved the land
    And they came from everywhere
    to the Great Divide
    Seeking a place to stand
    or a place to hide

    Down in the crowded bars,
    out for a good time,
    Can’t wait to tell you all,
    what it’s like up there
    And they called it paradise
    I don’t know why
    Somebody laid the mountains low
    while the town got high

    Then the chilly winds blew down
    Across the desert
    through the canyons of the coast, to
    the Malibu
    Where the pretty people play,
    hungry for power
    to light their neon way
    and give them things to do

    Some rich men came and raped the land,
    Nobody caught ’em
    Put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and Jesus,
    people bought them
    And they called it paradise
    The place to be
    They watched the hazy sun, sinking in the sea

    You can leave it all behind
    and sail to Lahaina
    just like the missionaries did, so many years ago
    They even brought a neon sign:”Jesus is coming”
    Brought the white man’s burden down
    Brought the white man’s reign

    Who will provide the grand design?
    What is yours and what is mine?
    ‘Cause there is no more new frontier
    We have got to make it here

    We satifsy our endless needs and
    justify our bloody deeds,
    in the name of destiny and the name
    of God

    And you can see them there,
    On Sunday morning
    Stand up and sing about
    What it’s like up there
    They call it paradise
    I don’t know why
    You call someplace paradise,
    kiss it goodbye

  8. Why don’t the taxpayers buy the property. That is what usually happens.
    Is this in Councilmember Ed Reyes district? Where is he?

    The owner can do whatever they want whether it is moral or not. Looks like no city official will sit down with the church to see if they will change their mind.

    • Don’t count on Reyes for any robust support. Look how effective he was at defeating the Broadview solar array. Plus, he’s got one foot out the door and into the private realm. Maybe someone can appeal to his interest in some sort of legacy? Huizar, can you help your new district? Please?

  9. More sprawl… just what LA needs!

    • How do you call a neighborhood right next to Downtown “sprawl?”

      • What else would you call low density, car-dependent housing built up in the hills?

        There isn’t exactly a shortage of single family homes on the market. But open spaces in LA, those are incredibly rare!

  10. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has been considering purchasing that property for over a decade. Now we will see what their true priorities are – conservation or collecting money to make more parks in rich people’s neighborhoods.

  11. Please come out to the meeting tomorrow night and make a stand for open space preservation and the Arroyo view shed.

  12. Daly and Foursquare officials will be present during the meeting of the Montecito Heights Improvement Assn. on Thursday, Feb. 16 at 7 pm. The meeting will be held at the Montecito Heights Senior Center, 4545 Homer Street.

  13. Curious about how a project like this could get entitled under the Hillsides ordinance. Maybe it had permits before it was adopted? Maybe they are seeking exceptions. If there is a Planning Commission vote pending on this proposal, than this is a big-time test of the Hillsides ordinance’s true power to regulate growth.

  14. 20-year MH Resident

    I’ve lived in Montecito Heights for more than 20 years. I know the area quite well, including the proposed development area. I just want to tell Scott Rubel to tone down the hyperbole:

    Mountain lions?? Seriously? Get real. There have never been any mountain lions or even reasonable suspicions within many miles of here. You do your cause no good with such outrageous statements.

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