A representative of --owners of a 37-acre plot of undeveloped land in Montecito Heights known as Flat Top--told community members on Thursday evening that the church considers the property a liability and is considering "all options" to free themselves of it.
Dr. Greg Campbell, Executive Director of the Foursquare Foundation, told an audience of Montecito Heights residents--who almost unanimously opposed the development of Flat Top--that the church was "committed to doing something with the land."
"We are going forward, I think that's something the community needs to know," Campbell said during Thursday evening's meeting of the Montecito Heights Improvement Association (MHIA).
Campbell said it was a financial drain for the church to "hold and maintain" the property, and that their lawyers were also concerned about the possibility of somebody getting hurt on the land and suing.
Campbell also made it clear to the audience that the church would dispose of that liability on their own terms, and at one point snapped at a community member who demanded that they provide more information about their plans.
The Foursquare Gospel Church has owned 37 acres of Flat Top for about 80 years. The parcel was purchased in order to erect three radio towers that would broadcast the sermons of founder Sister Aimee Semple McPherson.
Currently, the church is considering a plan proposed by the Daly Group, Inc., to build 36 houses on the property, each on 20,000-square-foot lots.
On Thursday evening, most who attending the meeting urged Campbell to instead consider selling the land to a group like the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy or donating it to the city of Los Angeles so it could be preserved as open space.
"There is a culture in this part of the city that cares about open space in general," said Aaron Thomas of Northeast Trees during a public comment portion of the meeting. "Any disturbance of Flat Top through development would be a catastrophe."
Campbell told the community center audience that, because the Foursquare Church did not need to make a large profit off the land, selling it to a conservancy was an option.
"We don't need much of a return off of it like a typical developer," Campbell said. "We are a church."
However, despite Campbell's stated willingness to explore all options, Thursday's meeting turned testy when Highland Park resident Nicole Possert demanded that Campbell come to the table at June's meeting with more detailed information about the property, and the possibility of preserving it as open space.
"We don't need to be told what to do by you," Campbell said. "I said I'm open to it, but I'm not going to be told what to do."
Is the Development Feasible?
Several community members have argued that, in addition to the overwhelming community opposition, economics and planning codes would make the project unfeasible.
Montecito Heights resident Tom Marble said that the Planning Department's Northeast Hillside Ordinance, which limits the height of buildings located on or near hillside property, would be too constricting for a developer to build on Flat Top.
Vince Daly, of the Daly Group, Inc., said he was aware of the hillside ordinance and felt he would be able to work within its confines.
"The Northeast Hillside Ordinance is one of the things we're grappling with," Daly said. "If we can't meet it, we won't build."
Other residents worried about the traffic that would be caused by construction trucks traveling up and down the narrow and winding Montecito Drive.
Campbell said the church would likely have to widen the roads should they decide to develop the land, and were well aware that such a project would trigger and Environmental Impact Review (EIR).
"We'd have to get and EIR, we know that," Campbell said.
After the meeting, Roy Payan, President of the Montecito Heights Improvement Association, said the church was being "naive" about the value of the land as a potential development property.
"The developer and the church are being naive about the cost to develop the land and eventually sell it," Payan said. "There are properties listed for $550,000 at the 900 block of Montecito Drive that aren't selling, so I don't know how they'll be able to sell these houses, which would likely cost even more."
Community Opposition Nearly Unanimous
At one point during Thursday's meeting, Mark Young, the founder of the anti-development organization Save Our Undeveloped Land (SOUL), asked for a show of hands from those who opposed the property.
Every hand in the room went up, aside from Daly's and Campbell's.
However, MHIA member Rose Aleman told Campbell that she had heard from a few community members during her neighborhood walks who said that they did not care about the development either way.
"To be fair, not everyone I've talked to opposes this project," she said. "But, I do."
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