Bob Town and Jerry Chaston are unlikely--and unhappy--next-door neighbors in Fullerton. A driveway separates the Potter's House, where Pastor Town preaches, and The Reef, Chaston's neighborhood tavern.
In an unusual battle, local residents have sided not with Town, who tends flocks of the faithful, but rather with Chaston, who tends bar. The neighborhood wants the church to leave.
The tenants in nearby apartment buildings complained that members of Town's congregation are too enthusiastic in proselytizing, blare rock music and hold loud revival meetings late at night, harass neighbors and take all the on-street parking.
Pastor Town argued that he has leased extra parking and reduced noise, but nonetheless his parishioners are here to "tell about the love of Christ."
Wednesday night, the Fullerton Planning Commission voted unanimously to review the 170-member church's conditional use permit in 90 days, giving the congregation another chance to reduce noise and work with neighbors.
At a session attended by about 30 people, the commission also denied the church's request to extend its hours.
Eva Chaston, who owns the bar with her husband, said during Wednesday night's meeting that "if they are allowed to remain there, we feel we will be put out of business."
But Town responded that he has tried his best to make the property "nice looking." He referred to the dispute as a "childish game."
"We do preach the Gospel and we will always preach the Gospel," Town said.
People on both sides left unsatisfied with the commission's decision.
Commission Chairman James Blake said: "I would recommend that the neighbors act and not react. I would almost say that they (the church and its neighbors) are both bad neighbors. I wouldn't put 100% of the blame on the church."
A half-dozen people spoke against the church at Wednesday night's session. And while parishioners were attending a church service and unable to attend the commission meeting, Pastor Town and a representative of the church's landlord spoke for Potter's House.
Before Wednesday's meeting, Chaston said: "The (parishioners) were harassing our customers. They came in and said we were sinners and that we would go to hell at times when they shouldn't have been having their services."
Town, 33, said his church is there to give "people the real answer."
Potter's House is one of 560 Christian Fellowship Churches, a nondenominational sect based in Prescott, Ariz., and is evangelical.
Churches Need Permits
Town, a former insect exterminator who became a preacher, said the congregation moved to the recreation center at 1834 W. Valencia Drive two years ago.
At the time, Town was unaware of a Fullerton law requiring churches to have permits to operate. The church was open a year before Town applied for one after a building inspector had informed him of the regulation.
He received a conditional use permit in November.
At the six-month review of the church's permit, Chaston and other residents complained.
The Planning Commission ordered a three-month review of the permit, because church activities were perceived to be disrupting business at the Reef. At that meeting, the commission approved the permit with several conditions, including a warning that Town "become a good neighbor," according to a staff report.
Town said he complied with all of the commission's conditions, using the members' donations and volunteer help.
He also installed air conditioning so the congregation could close its doors during services.
Additionally, Town built a wall between his property and the Reef, which is in a mini-mall with a laundry and another bar.
Jerry Chaston, who has owned the bar of seven years of its 20-year existence, said the wall is hurting his business because it obstructs the view of his bar from the street.
"If the (planning commission) allows the church to remain, the city has put us out of business," he said before Wednesday night's meeting.
Jerry Chaston complained that the bar's gross sales this quarter have dropped 39%, contrasted with last year.
"Normally at noontime this place is full," he said, glancing at the two customers sitting at the end of the bar. "When there is a controversy, people are afraid of coming into the bar."
Town said problems began when the Reef was having a barbecue on his parking lot in December, and customers were drinking beer.
Asked Party to Move
Members of his congregation had asked the party to move, but they refused. Town told the members, who were cleaning the church, to tell them: "You don't need to do that, you can be happy through Jesus Christ."
The members of the congregation then began sharing testimony over a loud speaker about how they had been saved, he said.
In reaction, the people at the party "were screaming and cussing" at the Potter's House parishioners, Town said.
Joanne Bailey, manager of the apartments next door to the church, said all of her tenants signed a petition against renewal of the permit.
The bedroom windows of one building face the church and tenants frequently complain of loud music and services, she said.
"They don't have any consideration for people that live around them," she said. "They have live bands on Sunday nights."