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Planners Agree to Zone Change but Withhold Overall Approval : Too Much Church, Too Little Parking, Foes Say

November 19, 1987|CHRIS WOODYARD | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — As church treasurer John Kootsikas envisions it, the new Assumption Greek Orthodox Church near Alamitos Heights would resemble one of the scenic houses of worship found in the Greek isles.

"It's going to be a beautiful building, Mediterranean white with a blue dome," he says.

But neighbors have complained that plans for the church, school, gymnasium, administration and cultural centers are too grandiose for the triangular 4.3-acre site on Colorado Street adjoining Pacific Coast Highway.

They expressed fears about a possible shortage of parking that might force church members to go in search of precious spaces near a large condominium complex. Also, they said the expansion will increase traffic and noise on quiet residential streets.

The Planning Commission last week agreed to recommend a zoning change to the City Council, but it indicated it would not approve a final plan for the complex unless more parking spaces are added and the overall project is scaled down.

"Now they have some pretty clear parameters in which to work," commission Chairman Nancy Latimer said of the church leaders who were asked to bring their plans back to the commission by Jan. 28.

The parcel is zoned for open space or single-family houses because of "its difficult shape, topography and relationship to the Sim's Pond Wetland," according to a city staff report.

Besides the zoning recommendation, the commission also approved an environmental review that found that the project as proposed would "cause significant adverse impacts" to visual quality, air quality in the area and transportation.

50th Anniversary Marked

The Greek Orthodox Church recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in Long Beach. Kootsikas said that the 265 families in the congregation are outgrowing their church on Pacific Avenue, built in 1949. Some weddings, he said, are conducted in the Los Angeles cathedral because of lack of space at the Long Beach church.

The new church would seat 550 worshipers, compared to the 250 to 300 that the existing building can accommodate. Kootsikas, who heads the church's building committee, said the gymnasium would be used for league basketball games, among other activities.

The church proposed 242 parking spaces. The zoning code and local plan for the area requires 551 spaces. Staff planners, however, settled on 327 spaces based on the projected peak parking demand that would be created if events were held at the same time in the gym and cultural center.

The parking shortage could be worsened by a proposed widening of Pacific Coast Highway that would require the church to give up a 22-foot-wide strip along the parcel. Kootsikas conceded that one of the buildings may be cut from the plans because of the need for additional parking, although no decision has been made.

Said Latimer, "I think the whole idea is if they can get the mass down, they don't need so many parking spaces."

Another problem is the dome. Zoning plans call for a height restriction of 35 feet. With the dome, the Byzantine-style church would rise as high as 75 feet. "The dome is a clearly unintended landmark structure that will dominate the area rising above Pacific Coast Highway," a city staff report said.

But Kootsikas counters that the dome should be viewed as a church steeple and granted an exemption. The roof line of the church itself, he said, will generally fall within height allowances in the area.

Latimer said the commission has not decided whether to waive height restrictions.

Neighborhood groups are generally in favor of building a church on the site, although the parking issue remains of foremost concern.

Roberta Wall, president of the Stoneybrook Villas Owners' Assn., said residents prefer a church to other types of development on the site. However, she said that the planned complex is so massive that parking would become a problem around the 471-unit condominium.

"Their plans were beautiful," Wall said. "They were just too large," she said.

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