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Spiraling Orthodox Church Expansion has Neighbors in a Panic

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Chase Street in Northridge is a throwback to earlier times. Many of the neighbors have passed down properties for generations. Residents still raise chickens and farm animals on the large properties. The neighborhood is home to Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #782, El Encanto, a barn that had been converted into a residence by General Harris Malasky back in 1947. Neighbors say the barn has been preserved exactly as it has been for over 75 years. 

Valerie Collins grew up in this neighborhood. She rode horses nearby and speaks about the now gone walnut groves. Like the other longtime homeowners and residents, she is concerned with protecting the integrity of her neighborhood. 

Back in 1998, St. Mary & St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church was built in her neighborhood. The church expanded to include a 58-unit senior apartment complex with 52 parking spaces, as well as a 40,480 square foot school on Roscoe Boulevard. 

Valerie shared with me that the church had removed 170 trees in the process of initial construction when they only had permission to remove 68 trees. “This also was a shady deal where they took the trees out over a Christmas holiday weekend when there was nobody around to notify,” the neighbor says. 

When the church had filed permits to expand the school and build two additional three-story senior apartment building, Valerie and her neighbors gathered 650 signatures forcing the hand of the city, which sent a zoning administrator from Valencia to the zoning meeting. Valerie says the zoning administrator put the brakes on the proposals until the church brought back “up to date” plans. (Expansion plan photo right.) 

The Chase Street neighbors say the church never came through with the updated plans. The neighbors who signed the petition are notified of proposed changes. “The city doesn’t notify you if you don’t say anything and then, people do whatever they want,” she warns. 

The church has installed a basketball court with windows directly overlooking a neighbor’s yard. Neighbors say the church regularly asks them to get rid of their animals or move the pens away from the senior apartments. Valerie will be joining the neighborhood council to address concerns she has about the future of her neighborhood. 

“I’ve lived in this neighborhood since I was four and I’m now 67,” she shares. “I’ve seen changes; some have been good but this hasn’t done anything for the community and that’s one of the things that is a stickler with me.” 

Valerie expresses concerns about the traffic brought by the church, especially during events and holidays when there isn’t adequate parking in the area and families run across the busy four-lane Roscoe Boulevard. 

She adds, “We pay taxes and this bring our property values down. We’ve lived here for generations and hand the properties down to our kids. We have to figure out what land use rules and the variances are. Nobody notified us about the initial apartment building. The city allowed it to be built over a historic monument!” 

The Chase Street neighbors aren’t necessarily closed off to development. “We don’t want more than stories and we want something that looks nice that goes with the land and the area,” she explains. “Our area is quaint and we want to keep it that way.” 

For now, the longtime resident is waiting to see what happens next as the church continues to buy up more land. “We don’t want a school or three-story apartment building right over someone’s property. It’s not right. Quality of life should come first for the people who live here and take care of the land.”

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.)

-cw