By Amy Wenk

Concerned residents who filled Sandy Springs City Council chambers Tuesday, Aug. 18 to hear the fate of the Church of Scientology, which wants to relocate from Dunwoody to Sandy Springs, will have to wait.

The Council was scheduled to vote on the church’s rezoning application that if approved would allow religious use of property the congregation purchased in 2005 at the intersection of Roswell Road and Glenridge Drive.

But discussion on the application was short-lived. The city’s staff recommended a 60-day deferral to give planners and City Council time to review a new set of conditions for the change of use from office to church.

The application will go before the city’s Planning Commission for the third time Sept. 17, and the council is scheduled to take a final vote Oct. 20.

The church’s attorney Woody Galloway said the new conditions arose from an Aug. 5 meeting but were not finalized until Aug. 17 or 18.

Opposing residents who attended the Aug. 18 meeting had no knowledge of the revisions but supported deferring the case.

“I have not seen them, so I have no comment until I see them,” said Jane Kelley, zoning chair for the High Point Civic Association. “I believe the Council just got them prior to this meeting, so none of the opposition has seen the new conditions.”

Throughout the zoning process, many citizens have advocated the city deny the rezoning request all together. Twelve homeowners’ associations or civic organizations have rallied in opposition, and the city has received more than 400 signatures on petitions. Major contentions are inadequate parking and increase in vehicular traffic.

“What we have done is propose some conditions designed to address the opposition’s concerns [and] the staff’s concerns,” Galloway said. “So that is what we have tried to do, address those by imposing limitations on the church beyond what the zoning would require.”

Changes include maximum occupancy numbers imposed by the church as an attempt to justify increasing the square footage of the four-level structure from 32,000 to 46,000 square feet, while reducing parking from 111 to 81 spaces.

That increase in space has been part of the Church of Scientology’s proposal since the application was introduced in March. As part of a planned $3 million renovation of the interior of the building, the church asked to enclose the 30-car underground parking deck to add more than 10,000 square feet for a sanctuary, additional office space and classrooms.

But city’s Planning Commission July 16 voted to approve the application only if no increase in square footage occurred. Staff analyzed each use of the building, like classroom and office space, and calculated a need for 148 parking spaces.

Now the church hopes restricting the total occupancy to a maximum of 283 persons will assuage concerns. Galloway said the occupancy maximum was calculated based on Sandy Springs’ parking code for churches, which requires one space for every 3.5 people.

However, the conditions state occupancy for the building may be increased during the hours of 5 p.m. and 11 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday if proof is given of a valid off-site parking lease for parking spaces located within 300 feet of the property.

“The idea is it does limit the church, but it is something they are willing to do to address the concerns raised by the community,” Galloway said.

Other new conditions include restricting the largest assembly area to 1,300 square feet and requiring the church submit detailed peak occupancy rates each Jan. 31.