Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos cast the tie-breaking vote approving rezoning of Church of Scientology’s property at 5395 Roswell Road, but at 12,000 square feet less than the church wanted.
The rezoning allows the church use of 32,053 existing square feet in the former realty office at the corner of Glenridge Drive, but was not what the church wanted. The church wanted to convert a 43,916 square feet underground, 30-car parking lot for its sanctuary. Neighbors and city staff opposed enclosure of the underground parking lot on the basis that the church could not provide the requisite number of parking spaces for the larger space.
“The 32,000-square foot limit wouldn’t work for the church and the rights they have for religious exercises,” church attorney Woody Galloway said during his rebuttal of opposition speakers. “It would hamper them to the point they couldn’t use the site. 32,000 square feet is not at all acceptable.”
The applicant has a “great need” for space, Galloway said, a characteristic of Scientology which was at the heart of the debate.
On the one hand, the owner is a religious entity, and other churches in Sandy Springs have lower parking ratios.
“You cannot discriminate on the basis of religion. It’s what this country was founded on,” Galloway said.
However, city Department of Community Development staff determined the way the space is used is more like an office building or a community college and calculated its parking needs accordingly.
“The applicant said it is a non-traditional church with a main focus on smaller meeting rooms,” said opposition attorney Brian Daughdrill of northwest Atlanta law firm Roberts and Daughdrill. “It was appropriate for staff to analyze it as they did.”