May 30, 1980
Church Permit Law Reviewed
By Terry Nutter
ORANGE When the Son Light Christian Center bought a landmark building in
the city's "Old Towne" restoration district and served
eviction notices on two of four renting merchants, it probably did not
suspect the action would cause the city council to re-evaluate some of
its policies on church - state separation.
The city responded quickly. On March 25, shortly after escrow closed on
the congregation's purchase, the city council adopted a 120-day urgency
ordinance requiring churches locating in commercial zones to obtain a
conditional use permit.
Up to then, churches in those areas did not need a CUP, although
churches in residential and professional zones did.
According to a staff report received by the council this week and passed
on to the planning commission, 11 of the city's 47 churches, including
Magliato's interdenominational Son Light, have settled into commercial
On a motion by Councilman Jess Perez, the council instructed the
planners to make a recommendation on whether churches locating in
already-developed commercial zones should be required to obtain a CUP.
The planners tentatively are scheduled to hold a public hearing on the
question June 16.
In its study, the staff recommended that the city require churches
moving into commercial land to obtain a CUP in order to force compliance
with health and safety codes, to regulate such problems as parking, to
help "preserve the integrity of commercial retail centers" and
"promote compatible land uses."
The report also noted that churches in the commercial areas have an
adverse financial impact on the city. Religious organizations are exempt
from property, sales and incomes taxes, as are many church-related
When a church locates on commercial, rather than residential property,
the report said, the city loses a comparatively larger amount of funds
because the commercial zone generates more tax revenues.
Councilman Perez acknowledged this week that Son Light's acquisition
prompted the city to review its Ordinance.
When the council adopted the urgency ordinance in March, Pastor Magliato
complained that it was unfair to restrict the church's use of the
property after the land had been bought.
"I can't for the life of me understand the sense of urgency, I
can't understand the panic part," he added at the time.
Downtown merchants, spearheaded by shopowner Carroll Johnson, who is
also the chairman of the Downtown Merchant's Association, had charged
that the church planned to operate a private elementary school in the
Magliato denied the accusation, saying the church would move its
bookstore to the property and hold youth meetings and activities there.
The building is across the street from the 650-member church's
headquarters, a converted theater at 172 N. Glassell St.