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Zoning could bar educational parish

Title: Zoning could bar educational parish
Date: Wednesday, 29 July 1981
Publisher: St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Author: David Henry
Main source:
Alternate and/or complementary: MISSION from Page 1

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CLEARWATER — It appears that the Church of Scientology cannot legally open an educational parish on Highland Avenue, the chief planner for the City of Clearwater said Tuesday.

"The evidence, that I have would indicate that that is a zoning violation," said Chief Planner Jon Richter. "I would expect our zoning enforcement officers to follow up on it."

The Scientologists plan to use a remodeled house at 511 S Highland Ave. as a "Clearwater Parish" where local residents can take beginning Scientology courses.

The new parish would be the church's first attempt to offer beginning courses in Clearwater although it offers advanced courses at the former Fort Harrison Hotel.

Scientologist Kathy Reilly said the parish will serve mainly Clearwater-area residents who are not yet eligible for the more advanced courses.

"We have leased the space from Henry Boerner of New York City to use it for services consistent with its zoning," John Conroy, an assistant to Miss Reilly, said Tuesday. "The premises are to be used as a parish for the Church of Scientology of Florida.

"IT WILL NOT be used as a school. It will be used for entry courses, lower-level courses for new members who will be moving here from other areas."

The counseling will be done on a one-to-one basis, with an instructor and a student, Conroy said.

"Any questions about the zoning should be referred to Henry Boerner, the landlord," he said.

Richter said the house on Highland Avenue is zoned professional services, which does not allow educational facilities of any kind.

"From my understanding of what's to be provided (at the parish), the use is not consistent with the professional-services zoning," Richter said.

Ray Wyland, city zoning enforcement officer, said he received a complaint Tuesday from former City Commissioner Richard Tenney, a longtime opponent of the Scientologists.

Wyland said he has discussed the complaint with Richter, and he agrees with the interpretation that the house cannot be used to provide Scientology courses.

"We have determined that there are some areas that do not meet our current zoning ordinance as far as the use at that specific location," Wyland said.

BEFORE TAKING any action, Wyland said, he will present a list of alternatives to his boss, Building Director Roy Ayres.

"It isn't our policy to cite someone the first time we go out" and inspect a facility, Wyland said.

Tenney said he filed the complaint because he believes that professional-services zoning does not allow for "any type of mission activity."

The Scientologists have fought bitterly with the government to be recognized as a church, and in this case mission activity is not allowed, he said.

"I think it's ironic that they're claiming to be a church, and then this is what prevents them from going in there," Tenney said. "I'd like to see how they're going to try and wiggle out of this one."

Richter, however, said the zoning questions center not on the fact that the parish is an arm of the church but that it's principal use is to be an educational facility.