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Church not a good neighbor, residents say

Union Tribune (2006-11-06) Jeanette Steele

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Church not good neighbor, residents say

Complaints include noise, traffic, parking

By Jeanette Steele

November 6, 2006

The Rock Church has become a pebble in the shoe of some Serra Mesa residents who have complained about traffic, parking and noise caused by churchgoers who pack popular Sunday services.

LAURY EMBRY / Union-Tribune

Churchgoers donned safety vests and prayed before directing traffic for parking ahead of the 8 a.m. service at the Rock Church on a recent Sunday.
The friction peaked in September, when the city of San Diego hit the megachurch with $56,500 in fines and fees for breaking the conditions of its permit – though $50,000 might be waived if The Rock works out some issues.

More headaches might lie ahead at its future home in Point Loma, because residents of the former Naval Training Center already complain about the lack of parking.

The Rock Church, an evangelical ministry led by former Charger Miles Mc Pherson, appears to a victim of its popularity.

The six-year-old church had 4,500 members in 2004 when it obtained a permit to operate in a Ruffin Road industrial park while waiting for the Point Loma sanctuary to be built. It boasts about 5,800 congregants, the church says, and nearly 7,000 people attend on busy weekends.

The youth-oriented church needed more space for Sunday school, child care and other programs, so it rented adjoining buildings. In doing so, it violated its city use permit. The group also broke the rules by putting tables outside and holding a car wash and donation pickup in the parking lot.

What has really riled the neighbors is the line of cars for the church's most popular Sunday morning services, which attract up to 1,200 people each.

The line sometimes wraps up the block and around the corner onto Aero Drive, neighbors said.

“We've had so many near misses from people exiting and entering the church,” said Toni Kuzmack, a condominium owner there since 1990. “It was a very quiet neighborhood, and we don't have that anymore.”

Residents at condominiums and apartments on Ruffin Road also get steamed when church members take up street parking – which is at a premium because the older buildings don't supply enough spaces.

One of the city's requirements for the church is that it encourage members to park in the lot.

“I can't even have a friend or company over on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday because there's no parking,” said Elias Marquez Jr., a condominium resident who sometimes moves his car to the street to save his allocated space for guests.

The church “came in and said there would be no impact on parking. And there is,” Marquez said.

Ironically, one citation the Rock got was for putting out signs – without getting a permit – asking members not to park on the street.

Noise has been another issue. The Rock is known for playing amplified music with electric guitar, a drum set and other instruments.

The church says it has tried to be a good neighbor.

A volunteer “parking posse,” monitors where churchgoers park. Other volunteers direct traffic under a permit from the Police Department.

“The traffic in my opinion clears out fairly quickly,” said Chuck Jamison, a church pastor.

Jamison said he understands the neighbors' point, but countered that parking is scarce all over San Diego and sometimes residents use the church's lot during off hours.

“I think we try extraordinarily hard, but we can't be everywhere at every time,” Jamison said.

He said noise was mostly a problem before air conditioning was installed in some buildings and members opened doors to cool off. Also, the church can't soundproof some buildings until it gets the proper city permit.

Still, Kuzmack and her neighbors are annoyed that the city didn't do more than issue fines, most of which the church might not have to pay.

The Serra Mesa Planning Group, a citizens advisory body, has reached a tentative agreement with the church that places more conditions on the religious group. Examples are a limit on the number of special events and a requirement for soundproofing.

The church plans to move into a new, 200,000-square-foot home at Liberty Station late next summer.The Rock's new sanctuary will have 3,500 seats. It can host up to 10,500 congregants over several Sunday services, church officials say.

To support that volume, the church has secured rights to about 1,665 parking spaces on Sundays – well more than the city's requirements, it says. Its peak demand will be on weekends when workers at nearby offices are gone, a spokesman said.

Residents at Liberty Station say they fear parking and traffic will be terrible when the rest of the occupants – schools, retail stores, offices and the church – are all in place.

Greg Finley, a homeowner and member of the Liberty Station Organization, said, “I just don't think there's any question about that.”


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Title Church not a good neighbor, residents say
Publisher Union Tribune
Author Jeanette Steele
Pub Date 2006-11-06
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Keywords Rock Church Ecpac Takeover, Save ECPAC
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Topic revision: r1 - 16 Sep 2014, RaymondLutz
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