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New Church Not Best Use of Corner Property

Helen Ofield: "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."

 

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. 

Helen Ofield

Lemon Grove Historical Society

Marianne West December 05, 2011 at 04:56 PM
That is really too bad. When I saw the house coming down, I thought it was part of the redevelopment plan.......
LemonGroove December 05, 2011 at 05:52 PM
I knew years ago that they had planned to buy that property, but was never sure if they did. I had always assumed that they would use or move that lovely structure. I never, never, thought they would tear it down, nothing recycles, nothing. Years ago I liked these church people, they seemed nice, but had no idea they were still meeting or even had a pastor. Maybe endowments like that encourage a congregation-less pastor to continue. My family, including my 3 school age daughters were outraged at the destruction. Having said that, a liberal church on that corner would be great. Do church people not eat? Do they not have socials? Do they not buy supplies? Please don't use that because I really don't see that yellow house around the corner bringing in lots of tax dollars, opposite, I think. Can you say city owned Bed & Breakfast?
James Davis December 05, 2011 at 08:15 PM
Interesting Helen, thanks for sharing. Perhaps this "overlay" (in current economic conditions) was a way of having a brand new structure built vs 2 dilapidated vacant homes just sit there. I am certain that, should the church dissolve or be sold, the idea that it would become offices or the like could still happen, no? I am hesitant in thinking that if a developer were to offer to build there, they would even build anything justifiable other than a brick and mortar box. Demographics play a vital role in whether or not an investor would choose to invest and I am certain in the future as some of our larger developments come to fruition, it will only make that corner more valuable. But right now, I think that is hard sell and actually I think the City could lose more in the long run by selling to private investment. The give and take would be more in favor of the investor than the city. Investors know cities are strapped for cash and have SO much more leverage. Just my $.02...
Lemongrovelocal December 06, 2011 at 01:09 AM
Living and working close to the blue house, I hated to see it go too. It was also so nicely manicured. I happened to walk past it a few times during the demolition and it smelled so must and old, I'm wondering if it needed to go. I think you're right Melanie.The church members will travel to Lemon Grove and before they head home perhaps they will purchase gas, groceries, or maybe lunch in our fine city. This isn't a disaster, just new development that people are sometimes afraid of. Not to mention, they pay almost $10,000 year in property taxes...I'd say the City is getting a little money from them.
LG Joe December 06, 2011 at 08:38 PM
I was surprised that house was torn down. It was always so well maintained and then it was vacant and slowing becoming an eyesore. This makes three vacant lots, surrounded by chain link fences, within a stone’s throw of each other; the old Shell gas station lot (across from the VFW hall), the lot in front of Bank of America and subject lot on Central. I don’t see how a church could be built on the lot on Central. It seems too small to accommodate parking and other amenities. Many congregations lease space in out-of-the-way strip malls these days. Perhaps that would be a better option. If the congregation wants to remain in Lemon Grove, there is no shortage of space to rent. By the way, churches with IRS recognized tax-exempt status do not have to pay property tax. Also, it only takes one individual to organize a 501(c)(3) or 23701(d) tax exempt concern.
LemonGroove December 06, 2011 at 09:15 PM
I do believe that the United Church of Christ, "God is still speaking", is a recognized and respected organization. I'm not 100% positive, but I do think that this is this church's main association.
Lemongrovelocal December 06, 2011 at 11:30 PM
Property tax bills are public...they are paying a 1% property tax and probably have been since they purchased the property a few years ago.
Paula Murdock March 19, 2012 at 02:31 AM
We can have all the opinions that we want to have but the facts are, the old house is gone and this new building is being built! Let's deal with the facts: apparently this "Church" has very few members which mean very little revenue for the city. Another fact is change is something we can all depend on and this building and/or the owner of it can change and maybe sooner than we all imagine. So let's be ready with zoning and redevelopment plans before that happens. Let's bless that land with our thoughts & words and pray that the owners actually take care of that property so when change comes, the land is worth much more to the city than it is now.

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