About 400 Mormons persuaded the Anaheim City Council Tuesday to allow them to build a church in Anaheim Hills despite two refusals by the Planning Commission.
"I look at the Latter-day Saints as good neighbors," said Councilman Irv Pickler. "They were turned down previously by the Planning Commission, and they backed away and spent time changing those things that residents in the area did not care for."
"There is no question that churches belong in residential neighborhoods," said Councilwoman Miriam Kaywood.
But, she added: "If this purchase had taken place today, I would have voted against it. But these people have owned this land for eight years."
Three council members voted to grant a conditional permit for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to build a church in a single-family area on the 400 block of Fairmont Boulevard in the Anaheim Hills. The council also approved a request to remove 145 trees on the site.
Fred Hunter, the fourth council member, abstained, citing conflict of interest because he lives near the site. He was among those who spoke against the development during the public hearings.
The conditional permit had been rejected by the Planning Commission in 1985 and last February. On both occasions the commission cited traffic safety concerns and negative impact on the area.
Floyd Farano, an attorney representing the church, said more than 5,000 Anaheim residents had written letters or signed petitions in support of the church proposal.
During the public hearing Tuesday, opponents of the building repeated their arguments that it would create a traffic hazard on Fairmont Boulevard, a narrow, two-lane, curving highway between Santa Ana Canyon Road and Canyon Rim Road. The highway has been the scene of 33 accidents since 1978.
Farano told the council that the church planned to widen the road in front of the church site for a total of 1,400 feet all the way up to Canyon Hills Road. He said that although 221 parking spaces are required, the church would provide 304.
The church would also replace the trees removed with 480 new trees, Farano said.
A church had been planned on the 11.3-acre site since the Mormons acquired the property in 1978, Farano said.
He said the Mormon church on East Nohl Ranch was at capacity because an increasing number of Mormons have moved to the area. He estimated that 8,000 Mormons live in Anaheim.
"People have a right to go to church in their neighborhood," he said.
"There are hundreds of churches in the area. We don't think we should go anywhere else. This is 1987. Churches stopped running 100 years ago," he said.
Sharon Achs, one of about 70 homeowners from the area, said homeowners may appeal the council's decision within the next 10 days.
"The council is concerned with the 3,000 (Mormon) votes and not concerned with the 420 homes that are directly impacted," Achs said.