Church Prayers Answered in Dispute Over Parking

Times Staff Writer

The West Hollywood Planning Commission has spared a 72-year-old United Methodist congregation the choice of finding 44 new parking spaces or evicting an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter that has been the church's largest benefactor.

Instead, deadlocking in a 2-2 vote last week, the commission let stand an earlier city decision that requires Crescent Heights United Methodist church to provide only 15 more parking spaces. The church might not even have to provide those extra spaces if it can show officials that the spaces are not obtainable.

"We're obviously happy with the ruling," said Pastor Marian Stump, who had said that the church would not be able to provide more than 22 new parking spaces. "We can work with the figure they gave us."

But the commission may not have the final word on the matter, according to one resident.

"There was a meeting of the neighborhood last Friday and we decided to appeal the decision" to the City Council, said real estate broker John Parks.

Until last Thursday's ruling, it looked like Crescent Heights would have to evict the Alcoholics Anonymous group, which brings more than 200 members to the church at least twice a week.

Neighbors in the immediate vicinity have become frustrated in recent years by worsening parking congestion on their streets. They said the congestion occurred whenever AA met at the church.

The neighbors began protesting after Parks told them that Crescent Heights was trying to obtain a city conditional-use permit that would have legalized the parking situation. Parks has been involved in a running battle with the church over its rental of office space to the Coalition of Economic Survival, a tenant group that backs rent control and is represented by three members of the five-member City Council.

At first, city officials backed the church. Mark Winogrond, community development director, ruled that the church--which maintains nine parking spaces--would only have to provide 15 more spaces. Winogrond also told church officials that they would not have to provide the 15 spaces if they could prove that the spaces were unavailable.

But after neighbors appealed to the city Planning Commission, the situation seemed to be reversed. Planning Commission members indicated that the church would have to comply with West Hollywood parking requirements, which meant Crescent Heights would have to find 44 new parking spaces. Failure to provide those spaces would have forced the church to stop renting space to Alcoholics Anonymous.

The group has given the church more than $3,000 each month in donations. Losing that income would have deprived the church of a significant portion of its operating funds, Stump said. The pastor warned city officials that if the church was forced to evict Alcoholics Anonymous, the disbanding of the congregation might soon follow.

In its final vote last week, however, the Planning Commission could not come up with a clear decision. Only four of the commission's seven members were present. Under commission bylaws, at least four votes are needed to overrule Winogrond's decision.

Ruling Stands

Two commissioners, Jeff Richmond and Peter Weinberger, sided with the church. Two others, William Fulton and Bernard (Bud) Siegel, voted for the 44-parking space requirement. Without a four-vote majority, Winogrond's earlier 15-parking space requirement was upheld.

During the meeting, church officials suggested a plan that would provide as many as 22 new spaces by parking cars side by side on a small church lot.

"We think we can alleviate some of the neighbors' concerns with our plan," Stump said.

But Planning Commissioner William Fulton suggested that the plan would provide fewer spaces than Stump's 22-car estimate. "They had a hard time convincing me that they could shoehorn 22 spaces into that lot," he said.

Parks said he hopes to persuade the council to take a fresh look at the situation. "When they see all the angry neighbors, they'll have to work out something more equitable than what the Planning Commission came up with," he said.

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