The Thousand Oaks City Council approved the building of a Mormon church Wednesday after a five-hour public hearing that was marked by accusations of conflict of interest against city officials.
The hearing drew about 350 people.
Members of the Hillview Homeowners Assn. had appealed the Planning Commission’s Feb. 23 approval of the proposed two-story church at the northeast corner of Erbes Road and Sapra Street, claiming that traffic and other impacts on the surrounding residential neighborhood were insufficiently studied.
The council voted 4 to 1 to deny the appeal, with Councilman Alex Fiore opposing the project. However, the council asked city planners to work with the church’s architects to redesign the project so that most church traffic would use Erbes Road instead of side streets. Under the plan approved by the Planning Commission, 80% of the cars leaving the church would exit onto Sapra Street, a quiet cul-de-sac. Traffic on Sapra is expected to increase by 1,080 trips on Sundays after the church is built, city planners said.
“We did win something by getting the traffic off our streets,” said Terry Ryan, president of the homeowners association. “But I believe there was still some kowtowing” to City Manager Grant Brimhall, a Mormon official accused by homeowners of using his influence to win approval for the church.
Brimhall, president of the 2,300-member Mormon Church in Thousand Oaks, has said he was not involved in the church’s effort to get a construction permit. The site is zoned for rural residential development--a classification that is often changed to allow churches, city planners said.
Association members also denounced Councilman Lee Laxdal, who is a Mormon, for voting on the project. But Laxdal said he participated in order to impose conditions, such as the redesign of the project to cut down on traffic in the residential neighborhood.
Supporting Laxdal was Councilman Fiore, who in an angry exchange with homeowner Barry Cane said he and council members Tony Lamb and Frank Schillo are Roman Catholics but have voted on several projects proposed by the Catholic church. City Atty. Mark G. Sellers said there was no conflict of interest under the law because Laxdal will not benefit financially from the project.
The council also upheld the Planning Commission’s decision to limit the building’s height to 45 feet and to require the church to pay a $170,000 fee for traffic improvements.