After contentious discussion and multiple amendments, the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council on Thursday night sided with residents seeking more time to review a proposed 85,000-square-foot “mega-church” that would rise behind the Costco shopping center on Los Feliz Boulevard.
The supermarket-sized church, athletic facility and sprawling parking lot would be built on a 20-acre parcel now occupied by a tent-like building and other structures that have in the past been used by a church called New Hope Chapel.
Although plans call for more than 1,100 parking spaces, representatives for the New Life Vision Church said they expected only 700 congregants to show up “at most” for services. According to the proposal, the religious organization would hold between three to six Sunday services and 5:30 a.m. rituals at the two-story church, which would be would be located immediately west of the shopping center that contains a Costco, Best Buy, Toys R Us and several restaurants.
The North Atwater residents opposing the board’s support of the project, dubbed a “mega church” by a meeting goer, said they preferred a church over another big box store or factory but said the project didn’t match the neighborhood’s character.
The stakeholders wanted the city to postpone a June 26 hearing on the project to give them more time to look over the environmental impact reports and wait on the results of a traffic study. Several stakeholders doubted claims by church leaders that the congregation wouldn’t herald additional traffic congestion.
There was also concern construction at the site would unearth ground water contamination from previous industrial uses. Council board member Alex Ventura, a contractor, disputed the concerns because the proposed digging would only go deep enough to secure foundations.
The stakeholders were also concerned about the amount of construction noise during the 14 months it would take to complete the project. The church leaders countered, “it will create no more noise than the train.”
Ventura’s initial council motion urged the council to approve a conditional use permit for the site, which is zoned industrial, as long as the traffic study was redone to focus on peak hours, instead of the initial average, and Perlita Avenue and Verdant Street, side streets, weren’t used as entrance or exit points.
Fellow council member Luis Lopez said postponing the June 26 hearing and slowing down the review of the project would be discriminatory because it held a group of stakeholders to a higher standard than previous projects. The church developers had notified residents living within 500 feet of the project two weeks before the hearing.
Lopez also said that delaying the project opened the door to another “big box” store or industrial project. “If you think Costco is bad,” warned the board member.
But the majority of the board sided with residents and voted to send a letter to the City Council asking that the June 26 hearing be postponed.
Tony Cella is a freelance reporter who has covered crime and grime in Los Angeles, New York City and the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Click here to contact Cella with questions, comments or concerns.