Parishioners at St. Athanasius Orthodox Church may have to confer with a higher authority – that of the County of Santa Barbara – in order to retain a parking lot and two trailers situated on its property.
The church, located on the Embarcadero loop, was issued a five-year conditional use permit in 1997, which allowed it to keep two temporary trailers used for office space and classrooms on the church grounds. Isla Vista Recreation and Park District (IVRPD) Director Diane Conn said the church has not renewed its permit since it was issued and now faces action from the county, which requires up-to-date permits for temporary buildings because they are exempt from the zoning laws that apply to permanent structures.
St. Athanasius is also in danger of losing the majority of the roughly 100 spaces in its parking lot, which it currently leases from the IVRPD for an estimated $1,400 a month. IVRPD Director Bryan Brown said once the I.V. parking plan is enacted, it may require the creation of a pay-per-space parking lot on the land, though 40 spaces would be reserved for church use.
Kimberly McCarthy, a planner with Santa Barbara County Planning and Development, said St. Athanasius no longer has the legal right to keep trailers on its property.
“The conditional-use permit has expired and they needed to resubmit a clearance to have those trailers on that site,” McCarthy said. “They haven’t resubmitted the conditional-use permit.”
St. Athanasius Reverend Father Jon-Stephen Hedges said the church has not applied for permit renewal because it needs to decide whether to retain the trailers or replace them with permanent structures.
“We’re in negotiations with the county and we’re working with them to either permanently permit trailers or else build something with a similar footprint for the uses of the church,” Hedges said.
The county has held off on taking action regarding the expired permits while the church and county consulted on possible permanent structures, McCarthy said.
“It’s typical that we don’t pursue active enforcement while an applicant or property owner is looking over their options,” McCarthy said. “I just received information that the consultation case has been closed, and in the next week or two I will send a letter requesting them to get back to me by the end of the month [about permit renewal] and I’ll establish a two-week to 30-day deadline to get back to them.”
McCarthy said once enforcement begins, the church will have to apply for a temporary permit renewal, decide to build a new permanent structure, or get rid of the trailers entirely.
Regardless of future plans, Hedges said the church is confident it will hang on to the trailers for the time being.
“We depend on them for classroom space and offices,” Hedges said. “Our indications from the county have been that it’s not really a problem.”
Brown said the IVRPD does not care what the church does with its trailers, although the district is concerned with the future use of the parking lot, as Brown said that the current lease needs to be reevaluated.
“The lease is until we assumed the parking plan would pass,” Brown said. “Both of us assumed this [would] be a short-term agreement.”
The IVRPD would like to turn the lot into a pay-per-space parking lot like those on the UCSB campus, Conn said.
“We want to rent it out for revenue,” Conn said. “We can really use the revenue.”
Brown said the IVRPD would still be required to retain 40 spaces for church parking, but could use profits from the other spaces to eventually convert part of the lot into parkland.
“Part of the pay-per-space plan is to have money to convert some of it back into park,” Brown said.
Hedges said St. Athanasius will accept the parking plan, as long as it does not hurt the church.
“Something would have to be negotiated to accommodate our life here,” Hedges said. “I don’t want to see anything that makes it impossible for us to be here.”