Before David Golding began attending Victory Baptist Church three years ago, his life was in shambles.
He’d been in and out of jail, and was battling depression and a cocaine addiction after a tough divorce that had left him estranged from his son.
“When I started coming to church and really surrendered my life to Christ, that’s when I found the strength to make the changes necessary in my life,” Golding said, adding that he’s since repaired his relationship with his son and his life is full of joy and peace. “There are literally a hundred-plus stories like me.”
Over the past year and a half, Victory Baptist Church has grown from an average of 70 members to about 300, according to Nick Reed, a Burbank resident who serves as the pastor.
Soon, however, the church may have to find a new home, as there’s a proposal to build a 241-unit luxury apartment complex on top of a Whole Foods market, dubbed “Talaria at Burbank,” on the site, owned by the Cusumano Real Estate Group.
If the project is approved, the church, 41 multifamily residential units, two single-family homes, three office buildings and a bar will be torn down.
While the congregation has known about the potential for redevelopment for years, Reed worries about finding a new location within Burbank, which he said offers little zoning and requires strict parking regulations for churches.
But his intention, he said, isn’t to stop the project from moving forward.
“It’s so hard to bring a church into Burbank, building-wise, so if we’re going to level this one, let’s open up another one,” he said, adding that Whole Foods and luxury apartments won’t help people spiritually, repair marriages or help people fighting addiction.
Since Reed became pastor, he said the Cusumanos have been a good landlord. The church was struggling financially and was three months behind on rent. The developer, Reed said, was understanding and didn’t charge them late fees.
The church’s lease agreement, which runs until 2016, reportedly states that if it was terminated early, the lessor would have to pay the church half of the rent collected after October 2013.
At Monday’s Planning Board meeting, Reed said that when his congregation voiced their concerns to the city, he received an angry phone call from Charlie Cusumano, during which the executive said that if the church continues to go against the Talaria project, he will never do business with Reed again.
The two parties, however, have different recollections of the conversation and what followed.
While Charlie Cusumano could not be reached, his brother and partner Michael Cusumano said his brother made the phone call on Wednesday, Aug. 20 after receiving a letter on behalf Victory Baptist Church — with the signatures of 100 congregants attached — in the mail, while Reed said he received the phone call the day before, after a member of his congregation emailed a city official with his concerns.
Michael Cusumano said via email that the church always knew it might have to move, and that his brother expressed surprise about the public outcry.
On Aug. 22, three days before the Planning Board meeting, Reed met with the Cusumano brothers and Michael Hastings, a former mayor and project adviser.
According to Reed, Hastings warned him about burning bridges with the Cusumano family and advised him not to bring too many congregants to speak at last Monday’s meeting as not to annoy the Planning Board.
Hastings, however, recalled simply asking Reed to speak first to make it clear that the church knew of the potential for redevelopment and perhaps ask the city for help relocating.
“I would never advise people not to speak at a meeting only because that’s the American way,” Hastings said.
Since the meeting, the developer has presented relocation options to Reed that include sharing a building with another church, and using the banquet hall of a local business.
None so far are sustainable for the congregation, Reed said.
Hastings and Michael Cusumano on Friday both emphasized their commitment to helping the church find a new home.
“We’re trying to do as much as we can for them,” Hastings said. “With passion they displayed at the meeting, how can we not want to help them?”