West Valley Guide


Posted on Thu, Feb. 24, 2005


Church expansion foes plan protest


By Connie Skipitares


Mercury News



Neighbors of San Jose St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Campbell plan to attend Tuesday's city council meeting in large numbers to protest a major expansion of the church they say will bring noise and more traffic to their quiet street.


The project, which would quadruple in size the current one-story church on West Rincon Avenue, gained planning commission approval Jan. 25, but neighbors appealed the decision to city council.


``The structure is now going to be two stories and the second story is going to look right into my master bedroom,'' said Betty Montoya, who lives in a townhouse next door to the church. ``This is a quiet and narrow street, and it's hard enough to park on Sundays. Now it's going to get much worse.''


The proposed expansion to the low-key, one-story church includes a large dome that Montoya says does not fit in with the largely residential street. ``It's a beautiful building, but it's not intended to fit into this very small residential area.''


Neighbors also do not like the open courtyard that is planned on the church property because they say it will bring more outdoor activities that create noise. And the church's expanded parking lot will bring stalls right up against residents' fences, they say. Some activities at the church go well into the night and keep the neighbors awake.


According to senior planner Geoff Bradley, the church will have to adhere to conditions for late-night hours, which means no activities or services can occur before 6 a.m. or after 11 p.m.


The Rev. Salib Girgris of the church said he was surprised that the neighbors filed an appeal. He said the church has gone to great lengths to address their concerns. The church has agreed to install opaque or stained glass windows on its second-story wing and will install cement wheel stops and plant trees along the fence of its parking lot so cars cannot hit the fence adjoining neighbors' property.


``We are trying to be good neighbors,'' Girgris said. ``We have invited the community to two coffees and an open house, but hardly anybody showed up. I don't know why. Whatever guarantee they want, we'll do it.''


The church was originally located in much smaller quarters down the street from its current 1.4-acre site. The congregation purchased the current site in 2003.


Under the proposal, the current church of just under 4,000 square feet would grow to more than 17,000 square feet. A new sanctuary is to be built at the front of the property and a new meeting hall is to be added at its back. A second story of nine classrooms is also in the plans, along with a bookstore, a deacon's room, an apartment and a kitchen for the congregation to bake its special bread.


The church's congregation has between 150 and 170 people, but hopes to grow to about 300, according to plans the church filed with the city. The building previously housed a Christian Science church.


An environmental study completed by the city determined that the expansion would not create any significant impacts to the neighborhood.


From the city's standpoint, keeping the property as a church is a good way to maintain diverse uses in Campbell, Bradley said.


``When the Christian Science church put it up for sale, there were swarms of developers who wanted to buy it and build condos there,'' Bradley said. ``But we heard from churches that there isn't enough church property, so the city sought to keep the public facilities zoning.''




Contact Connie Skipitares at cskipitares@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5647.