A group of Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christians should be allowed to build a new domed church on Roscoe Boulevard despite the opposition of some neighbors, the Los Angeles Board of Zoning Appeals ruled Tuesday.
The four appeals board members voted unanimously in favor of the church, rejecting arguments that the 40,500-square-foot sanctuary would be incompatible in a neighborhood where roosters still can be heard crowing.
“Churches are building blocks of our society,” board member William Christopher told the overflow crowd in downtown Los Angeles. “If we can’t find sites for churches we might as well pack up and leave now.”
The decision was greeted by smiles and applause from the side of the room where about 54 members of St. Athanasius Coptic Church sat. But across the aisle, about 28 neighbors sat with stony expressions, while others looked on through the doorway.
Opponents were so tenacious that during an earlier hearing last month, they argued that an old farmstead on the site at 17431 Roscoe Blvd. was once home to a notable Hereford stud bull and should be preserved. But the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission rejected that argument.
Appearing against the church Tuesday were representatives of the White Oak/Roscoe Homeowners Assn. and the Northridge Homeowners for Maintaining Residential Integrity.
White Oak President John McCarthy told the appeals board that he moved to the neighborhood before Roscoe Boulevard was paved. He said development of the church with its 600-seat sanctuary would be one more building to snarl traffic and cause accidents along Roscoe Boulevard. The group will probably appeal the decision to the City Council, he said.
St. Athanasius members have tried four times to build a new church to accommodate their expanding membership in the area, swollen with new arrivals from Egypt and parishioners’ children, church volunteer Salah Ashamalla said. The existing St. Athanasius church on Woodman Avenue is hardly bigger than a house, and has barely enough seats for the congregation of 350 on Sunday, Ashamalla said.
The members represent part of a small but growing population of Egyptians who have come to California in recent years. According to the 1990 census, 19,597 Californians now claim Egyptian descent, up from 8,717 a decade ago.
Appeals board Chairwoman Katherine Diamond delivered a stern warning at the opening of the hearing that no racist comments would be tolerated, an admonition prompted by phone calls to her office that had “raised the issue,” said Darryl Fisher, associate zoning administrator.
When Northridge resident W. H. Barker Jr. rose to call the Copts “an arcane cult that has no roots in this community at all,” Diamond cut him off sharply, saying: “We are tiptoeing past where I want to discuss this.”
But most of the neighbors appeared more concerned with traffic and the fate of the large eucalyptus trees on the property than with religion.
Among the 23 terms the board approved for the conditional-use permit, required for construction of the church, board members included one to preserve as many of the trees as possible.