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Panel Backs Church to Build in Horse Country

Times Staff Writer

Despite strong opposition from horse owners, a Northridge-based fundamentalist Christian church won tentative approval on Tuesday to build a church-school complex in a horse-oriented area north of the Simi Valley Freeway in Chatsworth.

After the unanimous vote by the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission, however, there was disagreement among opponents and proponents over whether conditions placed on the Covenant Faith Center would halt the project.

Key among the conditions placed on the 13-acre project at the northern end of Topanga Canyon Boulevard was designation of trails through the site that would permit equestrians to ride uninterrupted along the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains.

Fran Grady, an equestrian leader, said the conditions are “quite stiff,” adding, “Maybe they will be able to meet them, maybe they won’t.”

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But Pastor William Emmons predicted that his 150-member church would work out a trails agreement with park officials and also would meet other conditions imposed by the commission.

Church Can Appeal

If the church is unable or unwilling to meet the conditions, it can appeal to the Board of Supervisors, commission staff members said.

If the church satisfies the conditions, opponents can appeal to the supervisors.

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It was the second attempt in four years by the fast-growing church, now operating out of rented quarters in a Northridge commercial area, to find a permanent home in Chatsworth.

In 1982, the Los Angeles City Zoning Appeals Board turned down a request by the church to build the complex on two acres within city boundaries north of the freeway at De Soto Avenue.

At that time, many of the same equestrian forces rallied against the project, which included a church with a 746-person capacity.

The Topanga Canyon Boulevard plan approved Tuesday includes a church with a capacity of 390 and a 200-student school.

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Horse owners have asked for four trails through the site with its gently rolling hills.

Emmons estimated that more than 50% of the property would be left in its natural state under the plan approved by the commission.

Zoned for Light Agriculture

The property is zoned for light agriculture with houses on one-acre minimum lots, according to Jay Saltzberg, a county planner.

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He said that about 200 persons, divided equally between opponents and proponents, have written or telephoned the commission on the project.

The Chatsworth Chamber of Commerce and Equestrian Trails Inc., a horse owners’ group, have approved the project, provided agreement can be reached on the riding trails, Saltzberg said.

Grady, who also led efforts to defeat the 1982 proposal, said that, if the church proves able to meet the conditions, her group might appeal to the supervisors.

“We want this property and others in the area to remain residential with light agriculture, which is what the zoning calls for,” she said.

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Emmons said his church, founded in 1977 in Northridge, has spawned three other congregations, in Thousand Oaks, El Segundo and Frazier Park.


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