CITY HALL — The City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved an agreement to allow St. Monica Church to renovate and expand its property at California Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard by adding a community center, new classrooms and nearly 100 new parking spaces.

The church is also planning to knock down one structure on its campus and update an auditorium and gymnasium during a construction project expected to take three to four years to complete.

The proposed project involves demolishing a 13,500-square-foot pastoral center and constructing a 27,500-square-foot community center in its place. It also includes three levels of subterranean parking and 7,700 square feet of classrooms.

In exchange for the guaranteed right to build the project, the church has agreed to provide “community benefits” that consist of access to facilities for public meetings, 15 parking spaces that will be available to neighborhood residents during evening hours, and a publicly accessible coffee shop and bookstore. Church officials have also agreed to develop a transportation demand management program aimed at limiting vehicle use by visitors to the campus.

The development deal easily passed the council without dissent.

Church officials said they are still raising money for the project and hope to begin sometime next year.

Tom Zanick, who chairs a church committee that worked on the project, said the final plan represents a scaled-back version of an earlier blueprint.

“The proposal before you is probably less than we’d like to do,” he told the council, adding that the plan recognizes “we have a limited site, we have limited resources and we have a neighborhood context we have to work within.”

Residents who live near the church were split on the project’s appropriateness.

The Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Coalition reluctantly supported the plan, with the group’s chair person, Valerie Griffin, stating that the addition of new parking spaces in the neighborhood “outweighs [the] increased awfulness” of the added traffic congestion the development is expected to cause at the intersection of Lincoln Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard.

Others, though, said the construction impacts are enough to make the project a bad deal for the neighborhood.

“What can often be a bottleneck starting at Wilshire will be a nightmare,” said Sidney Hillery, who lives near the church. The project is also expected to overlap a planned renovation of the California Incline, which she said will compound congestion in the area.

Ken Sherman accused City Hall of failing to give residents adequate notice about several public meetings on St. Monica’s development plans. He brought with him a notice for a March 17 meeting that had been postmarked on March 31 and a notice for Tuesday’s meeting that he said had been sent on April 6, fewer than the required 10 days beforehand.

Planning Director Eileen Fogarty denied there had been improper notice given.

Before their unanimous vote in support of the deal, the council also heard from a number of church supporters, among them Wilmont resident Susan Scarafia. She said the planned construction will improve a valuable community asset while providing a significant side benefit to the neighborhood by adding underground parking spaces.

“Those of us who live there really applaud the church for helping us alleviate [our parking] problem,” she said.

Council members raised concerns about the workability of the proposed shared parking program and ultimately agreed that the plan should be subject to review.

No council member raised serious concerns before voting to approve the deal, but Councilman Bobby Shriver said there should be no mistake the project will have substantial impacts on its neighbors.

“It’s going to be a big noisy project, and I think we should not say anything other than that,” he said.

nickt@smdp.com

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