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Thread: Troubles for church
07-29-08, 12:38 AM #1
Troubles for church
Troubles for church
Building permitted for bar, not religious services, county says
By Anne Krueger
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
July 28, 2008
EAST COUNTY – For 22 years, they've been singing hymns at a stone-sided building off East County's Old Highway 80, not country and western songs. They've been drinking grape juice for communion, not wine and beer.
A county attorney told the Guatay Christian Fellowship it's OK to sell beer and wine and host live events at the building in a trailer park, but it doesn't have a permit to allow religious services.
“I could see this if we were crooks and hurting people, but we give to missionaries in Africa and Mexico,” said Stan Peterson, 63, a carpet cleaner who serves as the church's pastor.
The county also is cracking down on the Pine Valley Trailer Park, where 83 trailers line dusty paved roads dotted with a few trees at the foot of a hillside. Residents who have lived there a decade or more have been told only temporary trailers are allowed under the park's permit.
While investigating the trailer park's permit, officials realized the church also was violating county rules.
Deputy County Counsel Eliot Alazraki told Peterson in a May 30 letter that the county would take legal action against him if the members of the nondenominational church in the community of Guatay continued worshipping at the trailer park.
“We do not pass judgment on whether the use you are making of the building is a better use than the approved one,” Alazraki wrote. “We are only called upon to decide whether the use is legal or illegal.”
The church has been leasing the 2,100-square-foot building in the Pine Valley Trailer Park for Wednesday night and Sunday services since 1986. It is the only place of worship in Guatay, a town of 782 about 35 miles east of San Diego.
When the county checked out complaints this year of a code violation at the park, investigators discovered the church's permit was for a bar, not religious services.
Since receiving the letter, the congregation has been crowding into members' homes for services while the trailer park building sits unused.
Many people from the trailer park attend the church, along with others who come from all over East County, Peterson said. The pastor lives in a house across the road from the park.
Cheryl Rice, an office manager from Lakeside, has attended Guatay Christian Fellowship since it opened. She was stunned by the county's action.
“It's crazy. It doesn't make sense,” said Rice, 57. “When we found this out, our mouths were just hanging open.”
Charles LePla, an attorney for trailer park owner John O'Flynn, said new permits for the church would cost at least $10,000, plus thousands more for environmental studies.
The trailer park's previous owner had wanted a country and western bar at the site, but the plan failed and O'Flynn has leased the building to the church since he bought the property in 1986, LePla said.
“The building was approved for use by members of the general public to share common interests, to listen to live music,” he said. “These are all things that the church is doing that the country and western bar would have done. The only difference is the church doesn't drink during services.”
The troubles started after the county received a complaint that the trailer park was violating its permit by allowing residents to live in permanent trailers. Pam Elias, chief of county code enforcement, said she couldn't reveal who made the complaint.
The county says the park's permit allows trailers to be parked no more than 90 days at a time. While vehicles in an RV park have only temporary utility connections, the trailers in the Guatay park are connected to utilities and have additions such as porches and steps – a sign that their owners have no plans to move them.
Claudia Parent, 65, has lived at the trailer park for 15 years. Parent has built a screened-in porch at the entrance to her 33-foot 1967 trailer so her eight cats have a safe place to roam.
She gets by on a $1,074-a-month disability check, and said she can't afford to pay more than her $301-a-month rent. Parent said no other park would allow her aged trailer.
“I'm stuck,” she said. “If they do say this is a 90-day park, I'll be homeless.”
Fred Ashby, the park's manager since 1992, said almost all of the residents received notices that they needed to make fixes or get rid of trash.
The park has tried to correct the code violations, Ashby said. Last month, the park emptied 60 Dumpsters full of trash, compared with six in a typical month, he said. New stairs with railings have been installed in front of some homes.
LePla said O'Flynn made sure the park was properly permitted when he purchased it 22 years ago.
As proof, he gave his tenants a copy of an October 1986 letter from Sandra Gillins, a land-use technician with the county Department of Planning and Land Use, that said the park's permit had been modified by the county Planning Commission in 1982 to allow permanent residents. Alazraki said Gillins, who no longer works for the county, gave incorrect information in the letter.
O'Flynn could apply for an exemption to the county's 90-day rule, Alazraki said. Before the exemption would be allowed though, the county would have to hold a hearing and determine there is not a shortage of short-term RV parks.
LePla said the county hasn't begun researching the availability of RV parks, so he doesn't know how difficult it will be to obtain the exemption or whether the park's owner will pursue it.
Alazraki said county officials must enforce the law on how long people are allowed to stay at the park, and what goes on in the building at its entrance.
“We can't give them a pass just because they've been there for a long period of time,” Alazraki said. “It's not like we have a choice as to which ordinance we can enforce.”
Peterson said he hopes attorneys for the park and the county will reach a resolution for both his church and the residents of the trailer park.
“What do we know? I clean carpets. I'm not a lawyer,” Peterson said. “How come two lawyers can't get together and agree?”Molly Weasley makes Chuck Norris eat his vegetables.
Do not puff, shade, skew, tailor, firm up, stretch, massage,
or otherwise distort statements of fact.FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley
07-29-08, 01:05 AM #2
There truly must be a special place in hell just for lawyers. Someone just wants to make headlines for themself.Romans 8:28-31
"Anima Sana In Corpore Sano"
The opinions, beliefs, and ideas expressed in this post are mine, and mine alone. They are NOT the opinions, beliefs, ideas, or policies of my Agency, Sheriff, County Board, or any member of my department.
07-29-08, 01:12 AM #3
Maybe if they open up a country and western theme church with Statler Brother's Gospel music? How rediculous is this county?
07-29-08, 09:18 AM #4RookieSupporting Member Lvl 3
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What bunch of crazy bureaucrats. Damn they have no common sense. Fifteen years and nothing has been said. Where have the inspectors been?"A Knights Oath
A Knight is sworn to valor; His Heart only knows virtue; His Blade defends the helpless; His Might upholds the weak; His Words speak only the truth; His Wrath undoes the wicked"
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07-29-08, 01:07 PM #5
Zoning needs to change the acceptable use that's all. Pretty simple.
And yes, there is a special place in Hell for lawyers.That which does not kill me, better start fucking running.
If I lived every day like it was my last, the body count would be staggering.
I intend to go in harm's way. -John Paul Jones
Hunt the wolf, and bring light to the dark places that others fear to go. LT COL Dave Grossman
I'd be a better people person if I was around better people.
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