To the editor:
On Nov. 28, the Joe DiMaio home at Main Street and Central Avenue was demolished, along with all of its towering trees. This landmark in the town for at least half a century was loved by residents for its well-maintained, quiet grace.
Prior to his death, Joe told me that he sold the property for $950,000 to the First Congregational Church of Lemon Grove formerly on Glebe Drive—the famous “clamshell” church built in 1963. The 1963 church had been sold for a reported $3 million.
When this, plus a $1 million dollar bequest from an elderly parishioner, all came under the control of the church pastor, Dr. George Linzey, the die was cast. Linzey went to the Lemon Grove Planning Commission nearly two years ago, accompanied by some 23 people, literally the entire parish, to obtain permission to build another church. This time it will be an unusual pastiche of Mediterranean villa and copper-domed Byzantine style replete with a penthouse for Linzey.
The property falls within the redevelopment area that stretches from state Route 94 to Central Avenue. The highest and best use of such property is a combination of professional offices, commercial and residential, similar to the building on the opposite corner of Main Street and Central Avenue, which houses professional offices and residential.
But the property is now off the tax rolls. The city is impoverished, yet has relinquished prime, revenue-generating real estate so that a church of questionable stability can be built. The zoning code allows for troublesome “overlays” in this instance, an overlay permitting a church to be built there. This sort of mishmash planning should be abolished and a clearer code established that gives planners real tools to work with and better control of land that can produce tax revenue for the city.
Linzey envisions a day care center as one source of financial support for the church, plus rentals of a church hall. That corner already involves a trolley crossing, lots of auto traffic, many children going to and from the trolley crossing and school, and squad cars going to and from the Sheriff’s substation. Comes now a church parking lot, more traffic and a complex construction project that, presumably, will take months.
Linzey's reason to the Planning Commission for not remaining in the Glebe Drive church was that it needed too much maintenance. Forty-year-old buildings do require maintenance! The real reason is that church membership and revenues had shrunk drastically, notwithstanding Linzey's assertion that he holds a Ph.D. in church growth. Despite this unusual academic degree, the church of 1897, 1913 and 1963 is no more and today there are some 23 members, most over age 50.
This begs the question, why a penthouse? Will this byzantine church on one of the city's busiest corners be a tax-free residence for one man? In any case, the barn door is open and the horse has fled with any tax revenues the city might have gained from the property.
Lemon Grove Historical Society