Poway churches want to move into the South Poway Business Park — and are asking the city to reconsider its zoning that prohibits churches from moving in. Mayor Steve Vaus owned up to being the driving force behind the move at the Poway City Council workshop Tuesday night (February 16).
"There are a couple of terrific parcels east of General Atomics that would make a great spot for a church," Vaus said. "It's the blanket prohibition I'm against — I think we can make room up there."
But one of the founders of the business park, who sent commercial real estate agent Ted Cuthbert to speak, said that churches don't belong in the business park — 900 sprawling acres in south Poway, along Scripps-Poway Parkway, east of Community Road.
"We don't have enough space for the businesses that want to be here now," Cuthbert said. "We have one of the lowest vacancy rates in the entire county — we're at 5 percent, where the county average is 12 percent. People who live in Poway now find they can't find enough room to keep their business in Poway."
The business park was created in 1985, along with the zoning favoring manufacturing and corporate headquarters. Churches were barred because of parking issues, reduced property-tax revenues, and the distinct problem of having churches next to manufacturing and industrial uses, where, for example, hazardous materials are used, according to Poway director of development services Bob Manis.
The business park was intended to be an economic engine for Poway — to generate jobs and bring industry and the higher property taxes, staffers say. No vote was taken at the workshop, though it became clear that the five-person council is split on the issue.
"I have friends who are trying to stay in the business park. They are doing well but they can't get enough parking for their employees," councilmember Dave Grosch said. "I'm inclined to keep the Poway business park the way it is."
Most striking was the turnout: less than a dozen people, even though 3500 notices were sent. Three people spoke at the hearing and two emails were sent in response to the notices.
On the list of supporters to get churches into the business park is Craig Benedetto, a principal at California Strategies, a lobbying and public affairs firm. He did not attend the meeting but replied to an email inquiry that he was not representing a client and instead had his own personal interests at heart.
A resident named Elaine Fox sent a message that her church currently meets in an elementary school multipurpose room and she would like to have a permanent home for the church.
The other consideration is that there are plenty of places throughout Poway that churches can choose from.
"In the rest of the city, every zone allows churches with a conditional use permit," development services director Manis said. The city staff recommended against letting churches into the business park.
Poway owns just one parcel in the business park — the rest is privately held. The business park has restricted street parking, which would become an issue if a church were set up there, Manis said.
Vaus dismissed the parking issue, saying the city could require the church to provide parking as part of a conditional use permit.
"I know this council is not anti-church," Vaus concluded.