The Christian Science Church in La Cañada — which has operated at 600 Foothill Blvd. for seven decades and, in 2015, brokered a sale to make way for a senior facility that still hasn’t cleared planning hurdles — will soon move its small congregation.
The church is currently in escrow for a 2,400-square-foot space at 827 Foothill that, according to city planning documents, would accommodate a storefront reading room and assembly space in the back.
However, officials must now clear a planning hurdle of their own, namely, accommodating members with scarce parking options on and around the site.
Church leaders spoke at a Sept. 12 meeting of the Planning Commission, seeking a minor conditional use permit to operate the reading room as a retail site and hold services on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings.
Community Development Director Susan Koleda told commissioners the number of parking spaces behind the building is insufficient for the size and use of the space.
“There are currently four parking spaces back there but, based on the intended use of the building, staff anticipates between 15 and 17 parking spaces would be required,” she said.
Church officials attempted to remedy the shortage by entering a shared parking agreement with St. George’s Episcopal Church across Foothill Boulevard, where a declining congregation has made little use of 76 available parking spaces.
“They do not have a need for those parking spaces, so we did do an analysis and determined that … there would be sufficient parking for both uses,” Koleda said, recommending approval of the use permit.
The recommendation did not pass muster with a few commissioners unwilling to sanction the parking agreement without a traffic study or tangible proof of St. George’s parking needs. Although the city reviewed that two years earlier for another project on the St. George’s property, commissioners maintained more scrutiny was required.
“I don’t want to make a decision based solely on anecdotal data,” said Vice Chair Henry Oh.
Church president Dee Thiesmeyer said with escrow on her church’s new building closing Sept. 30, officials were worried about losing the space.
“We’ve been looking for additional space for many years, and there’s nothing in La Cañada,” she said. “It’s down to the wire in terms of time.”
Church board member Jay Knight said a manager at the nearby Chase bank seemed amenable to their using bank parking during off hours and was seeking corporate permission. Commissioners agreed to continue the matter until their Sept. 26 meeting to allow church leaders time to produce written evidence of sufficient parking, or to conduct a traffic study of St. George’s parking needs and provisions.
Graham Bothwell, chairman of the Christian Science Church’s property development committee, said following the hearing that church officials plan to renovate the building’s interior after the close of escrow and open soon after.
The former church site at 600 Foothill is still in the church’s possession but Bothwell would not comment on the organization’s plans for the space or whether selling to the Oakmont Senior Living was still a viable option.
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