Despite objections from the Marine Corps, county supervisors Tuesday voted to allow a church to hold services in a giant tent under a takeoff path, while a permanent church is built there.
In return, church officials pledged not to complain to the Marines or the county about the roar from jets overhead.
The unanimous vote by the County Board of Supervisors to allow services in a 2,500-square-foot tent was the second round the Marine Corps lost to the church. In November, 1991, the church won approval to build on the 74-acre site, despite objections from the Marine Corps. The project includes a 2,886-seat fellowship hall, a 4,800-seat sanctuary and a day-care center for 200 children.
Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez said Tuesday he believes that the church can peacefully coexist with the Marine Corps.
"I believe that the restrictions placed upon this project by the Planning Commission more than answers the concerns of the Marine Corps," Vasquez said.
Those restrictions include limiting use of the tent to two years and requiring that services don't coincide with the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station's normal operating hours. The tent hours are limited to Fridays after 7 p.m. and Saturdays after 6 p.m. On Sundays, a maximum of 2,200 people may attend services until noon, when the maximum drops to 1,000 until 6 p.m.
But Marine Corps officials said they do not believe that the limited hours will offset the possibility of jet noise interfering with church services.
"Jets make a lot of noise, and we're trying to protect people from that annoyance," said Col. Leonard Fuchs, community liaison officer for the air station.
Fuchs added that flights out of the air station are unpredictable and vary widely depending on missions and training operations. The Marine Reserves train one Sunday every month, which considerably increases the number of flights, Fuchs said.
Church officials maintain that they monitored flights over their church site for four months and recorded only nine flights that would have coincided with church services.
"I don't want to say anything about our music," said Rick Warren, pastor of the 18,000 member congregation. "But we probably won't hear the noise."
More than 70 church members attended the supervisors' meeting to show support for the church project, located on EL Toro Road near Santa Margarita Parkway.
Since Saddleback Community Church was established 12 years ago, it has held services at 53 different rented sites. For the past few years, the church has rented the gymnasium at Trabuco Hills High School, causing parking problems for neighboring residents, Warren said.
"I think we're the largest church in America without a church," he said.
Ronald G. Ress, attorney for the El Toro air station, said he is not sure the Marine Corps will take any legal action to stop the church.
"We need to consistently support the military's position of non-encroachment on airports," he said. "It has nothing to do with the type of facility being built."
Lt. Col. Greg Jacobson, deputy of community planning for the air station, said after the meeting that he lives not far from the proposed church site, and jet noise from El Toro is a problem in his house.
"If a jet flies over I can't hear my wife talking even if she's on the couch next to me," Jacobson said.
Despite the battle, both Marine Corps and church officials said there are no hard feelings.
"There is no animosity, the Marine Corps is not against religion," Jacobson said.