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Mt. Washington Residents Upset by Expansion of Religious Group

March 17, 1988|ESTER SCHRADER | Times Staff Writer

A religious organization on Mount Washington may be violating city ordinances by housing as many as 60 adherents in single-family homes in a residential neighborhood, a Los Angeles zoning administrator said this week.

At a public hearing Monday on a proposed change in the Self Realization Fellowship's master plan, zoning administrator Robert Janovici said it was unclear whether the organization has the right to use some of the 13 homes owned by the church near its 12-acre site as dormitories for its growing membership of monks and nuns.

The fellowship's 63-year-old headquarters, long a landmark on the quiet hilltop neighborhood northeast of Dodger Stadium, operates under a conditional use permit. But the monastic order has been acquiring homes surrounding the church headquarters. Since 1984, a minister with the church said, monks and nuns have been living dormitory-style in about five of the homes.

Ministers of the fellowship are seeking city approval to change the location of a nun's office building which is part of the property's master plan. Fearing that the order is quietly taking over their neighborhood, however, a Mount Washington homeowner's group used the hearing to challenge the legitimacy of the master plan itself, as well as the monastic order's use of homes in the surrounding area.

"It seems sort of incongruous to me that that all these dorms are popping up all over the neighborhood after we worked so hard to keep development down," Mount Washington Assn. member Lucille Lemmon said. "They are good neighbors, but how many good neighbors are enough?"

Janovici said he could not rule on whether to approve the change in the master plan without knowing more about the expansion of the fellowship's operation into the surrounding neighborhood.

Zoning Engineer's Letter Cited

"If those homes do in fact constitute an expansion of that facility, then they are in violation of the code," Janovici said. "It's not our practice to approve intensification of the facility when there are violations going on."

Fellowship ministers say they need more office space to run their organization and more housing for their adherents.

To support their request, they cite a 1984 letter in which a city zoning engineer said that the homes owned by the fellowship can be classified as boarding homes for clergy. Under California law, such monastic arrangements are allowed in single-family residential zones.

"We're just not challenging the community and taking over the top of the hill," Fellowship minister Bruce Mars said. "We just wanted a little buffer zone around our property, a little space for our organization to grow."

Janovici said he will rule on the expansion and housing issues after receiving more written arguments from the Fellowship.

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