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          Front Page




Church Appeals to Panel

By Sean Olson
Journal Staff Writer
    The Church of Scientology of New Mexico was back for another city zoning hearing Monday as part of its attempt to relocate its church to Downtown Albuquerque.
    The church wants to move to the Gizmo building at Fourth and Central but has faced some community opposition and zoning challenges, delaying the building's proposed remodeling.
    "We're not arguing with the city; we just want to sort all this out," church community affairs director Sandy Block said Monday.
    Monday's hearing took up the church's appeal of a city decision that would force another hearing to decide whether the church's location Downtown would be harmful to other businesses or the church itself.
    City code compliance officer Matthew Conrad said the zoning plans governing Downtown do not specify churches as an automatically allowed use, and so a hearing to get permission is necessary.
    David S. Campbell, the church's attorney, wrote in a letter to land use hearing officer Steven M. Chavez that the city's decision violates federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
    Campbell argues that the city is not allowed to look at whether a building is housing a church, but must instead consider the uses inside the church. In this case, the uses would include classrooms, offices and an auditorium.
    Those uses are automatically permitted for buildings in the area and would not require the extra hearing, he argued.
    A Journal message to the City Attorney's Office was not returned Monday.
    Chavez will return with a recommendation based on arguments made at Monday's hearing, which will be forwarded to the City Council.