Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Planned Atwater “mega church” draws neighborhood opposition

By Tony Cella

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.

Site plan shows main church buildings in blue.

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.

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  1. At least a big box store would be paying its fair share in taxes.

    • No kidding. Keep that crap outta here. “Doesn’t match the character of the neighborhood” indeed. Last thing we need is a big old suburban monster church – nothing about that resonates with Atwater. There are sweet little neighborhood churches of many denominations all over this area that fit the neighborhood.

  2. If they only expect 700 people parking at maximum, then can’t they take the land used for the 400 additional spaces and turn it into something nice for the community? Even just a bit of grassy open space, or a stand of low-maintenance bushes or small trees would be nicer than something that will just draw cars like a magnet.

    (And it’s really sad that the big box mall next door has so much more land area devoted to parking than to anything useful when we’re in such an urban environment here. It’s a shame that this other lot is currently sitting empty, but turning it into active parking doesn’t really help.)

    • Church? We still building churches in this society? In LA? JESUS CHRIST! This is not only out of line for Atwater, It’s out of line for any metropolitan area.
      I thought city folk were smarter than this.

  3. This “MEGA CHURCH” is totally out of character for Atwater Village, I live on Perlita and currently have 4 churches within 2 blocks of me (not counting this one) they all “blend”into the village and houses and other than an ocasional bell on Sunday I dont hear them or see the people going to them. This church will have 3-4 services on a Sunday with 500-700 people per service and 1100 parking spaces and a 78,000 square foot building, this project is WAY TOO BIG for Atwater Village, the vast majority of people coming to this MEGA CHURCH dont even live in Atwater Village, if they want a Church in that location lets down scale the project to say less than 10,000 square ft (which would be bigger than the other 4 churches in the Perlita/Verdant area) the residents of North Atwater are not against religion or churches just MEGA CHURCHES that are way too large for the neighborhood.

  4. Is this a multi racial, multi ethnic, diverse church? If not i don’t think it would be good for the neighborhood.

  5. This is way to big… not in character with the neighborhood at all. The comment about the construction noise being no more than the train is ridiculous… the train only comes by occasionally… the construction noise would be all day. The Sunday traffic on Los Feliz & in the costco parking lot is already a problem. If you enter this new mega complex from a side street, it will most definitely alter the feel of those neighborhoods for the worse. If they do enter from one of the side streets, would you want 700 cars each morning at 5 – 5:30am? If you enter from Los Feliz Blvd through the costco parking lot area that will be a traffic disaster. With a possible 6 services on Sundays, we are talking about an additional 4200 cars added to the existing traffic congestion.

  6. I’m not taking sides – and I don’t think churches should receive tax-exempt status – but if the property is currently zoned for industrial use, it would probably be a plus if a church were built there as opposed to a factory or other industrial uses.

  7. Patrick Terrill

    The property “WONT BE USED FOR ANYTHING ELSE” it is a EPA SUPERFUND site and former home of a pottery factory with heavy metals and glazing in the ground, nothing else could be built their and it was even considered it would require a Environmental Impact Study because of the EPA Superfund designation, so dont be scared by the church is “lessor of two evils” approach that is complete bunk.

  8. Are the Koreans still running this place or did along with the name, did the owners change as well? I remember seeing a large scale map in the lobby of the current tent church building. It showed that their master plan (Version 2005) was to build a new church, have a lot of parking, but in addition to the church they would build a Pre K-12 school, have different buildings for the school then there would be a lot of green areas, im assuming a park like sort of thing. I wonder what ever happened to that if they modified it to just be the church or if its not going to happen at all.

  9. I support the use of this site as a church.

    Faith-based organizations have a place in Atwater Village, they provide important community-based services and cater to the spiritual needs of those who seek it. This has been true in Atwater Village since very beginning.

    The site in question is privately owned and zoned for heavy manufacturing…it CAN be used an as such. Such a large site will not remain vacant forever. It has not reverted back to manufacturing use because New Hope Chapel has sought to construct a church on the site for the better part of a decade.
    If New Hope can’t use the site I believe they won’t have any alternative but to sell or lease it. As such, it would open it up for manufacturing use once more… and no one in Atwater wants to see this site revert back to manufacturing.

    At both the AVNC land-use meeting and general meeting there was an attempt by some to cast the congregation of New Hope Chapel as “outsiders”… somehow unworthy of being in our village. I found this misguided NIMBY’ism to boarder on bigotry. I find it disgusting that the congregation at New Hope Chapel are being referred to as simply the “Koreans” and their church as a “megachurch” as a way to vilify them.

    This church and their congregation are from Atwater Village… they have been part of this community for over a decade… and many of them live in Atwater and the immediate surrounding area. They have the same rights to be Atwater Village as those “newbie” residents that have lived here for less than a year.

  10. Luis, that is not correct if the New Hope Church did sell the property to someone else and that someone else wanted to build heavy manufacturing on that site they would require a conditional use permit, just like New Hope does and the neighbors that live close to the site would have an opportunity to have their voices heard. I noticed the other night at the AVNC meeting only 3 of the board members were not listening to the public on this issue (you were one of those 3 board members) we want input on this project to scale it back to a size that blends with Atwater Village, and helps keep our neighborhood a village. We all noticed how you and the three board members tried without community support to “RAM” this project down our collective throats. All the stakeholders at that meeting were against this large scale religious structure, too bad you don’t listen to those you are suppose to represent while serving on the board of the AVNC.

    • Vernon,

      I disagree on assertion that a this project is being “ram” thru. There has been an ongoing effort to construct a permanent church on this site going back almost a decade. I don’t consider a decade long effort “raming” anything thru. It’s unfortunate that your real estate agent didn’t inform you of this fact.

      And for the record, I’ve been actively working to preserve this community and it’s “village feel” many, many years. This doesn’t give me any special privilege then those who just move into our village. But I like to think my experiences and local knowledge allows me to make informed decision.

      I support the use of faith-based activities on this site, not heavy manufacturing as it’s currently zoned for. Manufacturing activities can happen on this site by-right and without any community input. Also, supporting the project doesn’t mean we have accept the traffic or other issues without adequate mitigation. Some form on mitigation will have to happen if a Conditional Use Permit is to be granted.

      I urge you and anyone interested on this issue to take a 2nd look on the proposed project.

      • Trying to leverage your point by “threatening” a manufacturing facility is weak. Don’t fall for it Atwaterians, manufacturing anything in California is but a dream…

        • AMEN, that has been the approach all along, is that the church is the lessor of the evils that could come to the property. Which we all know is complete BS, anyone, group or business would require a permit and the neighbors (us people that live their) would get to put in our two cents worth, that is how it works.

  11. http://cityplanning.lacity.org/staffrpt/mnd/ENV-2013-998.pdf

    I would encourage everyone to see the Proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration Report.
    Many questions can be answered by going over this report.

  12. Having attended the general AVNC meeting last week I feel it’s important to correct a few mischaracterizations that have been posted here about what was said and the nature of the opposition to the plans as they currently exist.
    First, no one opposed the construction of a church on the property in question and, indeed, many of us would welcome it. Only the church’s overwhelming size (the parking lot alone is 9.4 acres for over 1,100 cars) and hours of operation (5:30am-10:30pm seven days a week) were questioned. Any development of this size would seriously disrupt the residential nature and village scale of the surrounding neighborhood. The noise and traffic caused by several hundred people attending 5:30am services and the addition of over a thousand vehicles on weekends would most likely be opposed if created by any other kind of development.

    Second, I’m deeply concerned by the accusations that specific ethnic or faith groups were labeled as “outsiders”. Fortunately, this did not take place at the AVNC meeting I attended, nor did it take place, I am told, at the land-use committee meeting. Several residents, however, did express concern over 1,100 cars and buses clogging our streets, the majority of those vehicles presumably coming from outside the immediate neighborhood. No one used the term “outsiders” and the applicants were referred to as “the church” or “the applicants,” not as Koreans, at least not during the meeting or afterward within my earshot.

    What was presented at the meeting was a description, not discrimination.There is a difference between referring to traffic from outside the area and “outsiders.” I trust Mr. Lopez simply misunderstood and isn’t intentionally mischaracterizing our neighbors as bigots for their legitimate and serious concerns about the nature and impact of this development. In Atwater Village we must continue to celebrate our diversity and welcome those who truly want to strengthen our community. At its proposed size, however, including a bookstore, cafe, multiple chapels, play zones and stages it is, indeed, a “mega-church” and not in keeping with the village identity.

    Finally, the residents who spoke up called only for smart, considered development based on facts and concrete information. We requested that no recommendation be made on this project and that AVNC ask the city for a continuance of 60-90 days to study the proposed development. The strong attempt by a few members of the AVNC land-use committee to make an official endorsement of this project “AS IS” to the City Council, is baffling. By their own admission they had only heard of it one week before the AVNC full board meeting.

    A traffic study of peak hours impact hasn’t been completed as far as we know. There have been no solid answers to important questions (about the proposed school on the property or even the official capacity of the entire complex) or agreed-upon solutions to mitigate potential problems (such as any Superfund considerations or barring parking lot access from residential side streets except for emergencies).

    Mr. Lopez points out that this project has been developed over a decade. Why then wasn’t he or the rest of the land-use committee or New Hope Church able or willing to provide answers to these basic questions? And why isn’t our AVNC land-use committee working with New Hope Church to respond to community concerns rather than insisting that the community support these plans without any modifications or even greater outreach to all stakeholders? In brief, why do Mr. Lopez and Mr. Vega feel such a sense of urgency to approve this project before most of us first fully understanding its impact and scope?

    The fact remains, only residents within 500 feet of the proposed 22 acre construction site received any notification, mailed barely three weeks before the June 26 hearing scheduled at City Hall to approve the project. Most of my neighbors hadn’t even heard about this massive project that will increase the traffic and alter the nature of Atwater Village. And we still don’t have sufficient information or community dialog with New Hope Church. This is why we requested the AVNC board to withhold any recommendation OR opposition to the project and simply request a 60-90 day continuance before the hearing. Hopefully it will be granted and then all stakeholders will be able to engage in the dialog and negotiation that is the responsibility of members of our community, not to mention good neighbors.

    • Thank you for clarifying the facts of the AVNC meeting last Thursday night in Atwater Village. I did read today on NEXTDOOR from the co chair of the board to be prepared for the 26th that it will be most likely decided that day. Write you emails and plan on attending to hopefully keep the village in Atwater Village. This project will severally impact the neighborhood and overall quality of life.

    • I too find it very odd that Mr Lopez is trying to push this through when it lacks what politicians and government officials love, tax revenue. Smells like someone is on the take here.

  13. When they say “No more noise than the train” do they mean that laterally or do they mean it will make as much noise as the train but it will go on for HOURS instead on Minutes like the train does?

    A Recreation Center with community events and park space is the way to go. We have enough churches.

  14. I live in North Atwater and just found out about this project. I am extremely concerned about the fact that there has been little to no effort to inform the people who are most likely to be negatively impacted by a development of this size. The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday June 26th at noon at LA City Hall 200 N. Spring St. Rm 1020 LA, CA 90012. Jane Choi is the city point person on this. I have been in communication with her and she has asked that all concerns be sent to her. She has given me permission to share her contact information. It is [email protected] (213) 978-1379. Although the hearing is scheduled for the 26th, the file will remain open until July 8th at least. That means that any concerns we raise will be considered in the decision making process. She recommended that we be as specific as possible in our emails or letters. If you have concerns about this, please contact her, please ask your neighbors to contact her. Be a squeaky wheel. It will only take a few minutes and it will really help. Thank you.

  15. This church will be good to offset the current trend of godless “lifestyles” in this once family neighborhood. I find it ironic that none of the current hipster and “other types” who live in Atwater complain about the explosion of bars and taverns in the neighborhood, but as soon as a church is proposed they scream like witches doused with water.

    I hope they build 20 mega churches in Atwater, Glassell Park, Highland Park and Silverlake— and drive all the weirdos crazy….

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