Montecito Heights residents gathered Thursday evening to get an update from representatives of the Church of the Foursquare Gospel on the denominationâ€™s plans for 36 houses on its Flat Top real estateâ€”and to make sure church representatives remain aware of their resolve against such development ever taking place.
Local resident Jack Fenn pointed out that the dollars the church is putting into planning for development could be spent instead on starting an open space foundation for the site.
From Downtown it may look like valuable land, suggested resident Hardy Wronske. But after looking into engineering, construction and soil report issues, the church could decide that Flat Top is not such a good deal. Wronske suggested that â€śthe highest and best interestâ€ť could well be a public land trust rather than spending a half million dollars to find out a project isnâ€™t feasible.
The dialogue took place during the monthly meeting of the Montecito Heights Improvement Association (MHIA). Regular MHIA participants were joined by members of Save Our Undeveloped Land (SOUL), a new group formed specifically to fight the proposed development.
The meeting was development consultant Vince Dalyâ€™s third visit to the MHIA. He was joined this time by Greg Campbell, President of the Foursquare Foundation, the arm of the church that manages its considerable property assets across the country.
Daly reiterated his previous contention that at least 90% of the development would remain open space. (This will be privately held open space on the slopes behind the houses.) And he added the possibility that the land around the radio tower at the top of the hill could be used as a park or other open space actually open to the public.
The foundation is just beginning to look at construction issues such as roads, sewers and water, according to Daly. It has not yet looked at environmental issues such as wildlife corridors. It has not yet met with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, although it has been contacted by them.
According to Campbell, the Church of the Foursquare Gospel has been advised by its legal counsel that its Montecito Heights land is a liability. It is a financial drain. And there are insurance issue regarding the possibility that someone could get hurt on the land.
While Flat Top is considered by many residents to be the soul of Montecito Heights, its importance to communities beyond as well was brought up at the meeting. The green space is a prominent feature in the viewsheds of Highland Park, Cypress Park, Mount Washington, El Sereno, Lincoln Heights and even Downtown Los Angeles.
â€śLook out of buildings Downtown and itâ€™s the first thing you see,â€ť said Fenn. â€śAnd itâ€™s only four miles from the skyscrapers.â€ť
The Church of the Foursquare Gospel is clearly moving ahead with the intention of developing the 36 houses on the property. The church is working on development plans, not on figuring out how to preserve open space. However, Campbell did not slam the door on the possibility of Flat Top remaining open land.
â€śIf a land trust comes and gives us the money, and it stays open space, fine,â€ť said Campbell.
Campbell and Daly have agreed to meet with Montecito Heights residents again in June.