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Church of Scientology Coughs Up Over $400,000 to Pay Code Enforcement Fines

The church ended a five-year struggle with the City of Clearwater Thursday, a day before the city would have begun a collections process to obtain the sum of the fines.

In what may have been the largest monetary city code violation in Clearwater's history, the Church of Scientology paid a six-figure sum of money Thursday to end a five-year battle with the city over code violations in a downtown building.

Thursday, the Church of Scientology paid the city $413,500 that had built up over code violation's at the church's Flag Building, 215 S. Fort Harrison Ave., which takes up an entire city block.

$Had the church waited another day, the fines would have been over $450,000 and the city would have begun a collections process to obtain the fines.

The genesis of the fines began when, during construction of the building, the church began building up $250 in fines daily as the city code enforcement believed the building had turned into an eyesore due to neglect.

The church had previously sought to negotiate a lower fine and offered to pay $45,250 of the $413,000. The offer was rejected by the city and Pat Harney, spokesman for the church, in a last month, suggested the church may fight the fine in court.

“I’ll leave that up to the legal guys,” she said. “Our argument is that we were in functional compliance in 2007.” Harney said.


Code Enforcement Timeline:

  • October 1998: Church of Scientology makes plans for property at 215 S Ft. Harrison
  • March 28, 2000: Permit 1 issued for construction of seven story shell/core building
  • Nov. 21, 2004: Permit 1 expires; “The church stopped construction for internal planing purposes and to change general contractors,” is written on page three of a brief to the city.
  • 2006: Notice of violation issued for expired permit 1
  • March 22, 2006: Code Enforcement Board orders Church to activate required permits within 90 days (June 25, 2006) and to complete work and obtain inspections within 180 days (Sept. 23).
  • April 26, 2006: Because the church’s first certified site plan expired in 2004, they file a Flexible Standard Application 
  • Aug. 31, 2006: Development Review Committee reviews application.
  • Oct. 2, 2006: Development order is issued for Flag site
  • Oct. 6, 2006: New permit application for shell/core completion and completion of permit 1 which includes curbs, sidewalks, sod and stairwell doors.
  • Jan. 17, 2007: Permit 2 is issued. 
  • Oct. 21, 2007: Permit 2 expires but is extended five more times; Oct. 26, 2007; Dec. 12, 2007; Jan. 24, 2008; Aug. 18, 2008; and Oct. 17, 2008.
  • 2008: Application for Permit 3 to complete interior including air conditioning, exterior landscaping and hardscaping
  • Sept. 17, 2009: Permit 2 is closed because the work is subsumed by Permit 3
  • June 1, 2009: Permit 3 is issued
  • June 6: Certificate of Occupancy is issued
  • Aug. 24: Church offers to settle the case by paying $45,250. This offer is rejected by the city.
  • Oct. 6: Chuch pays the fine in total, $413,500. 
Ben October 07, 2011 at 04:35 PM
As a contractor, I don't understand what the big deal is about this, must be a slow news day, permit issues, code violations, fines, are part of EVERY major construction job, and especially one that stretches years. They paid the fine, done. Patch, can you fill your news space with actual news benefiting the community and give me a reason to keep reading you? thank you.
carolina87 October 07, 2011 at 05:31 PM
They could have disputed this charge, but instead, they just went ahead and paid it, i bet the city of Florida is jumping up and down for joy now. I do feel like this was a bs fee though, they disregard these kinds of charges all the time in major constructions, they only went after them bc its Scientology, kind of sucks.
Paco October 07, 2011 at 05:33 PM
I didnt know there were fines for being an 'eye sore'. If that were the case in New York City...three quarters of the town would be indebted. Anyway, its a hell of a fine of which the city could benefit much from.
Rae Moyes October 07, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Agree with Ben, don't really see how this is a headline. Things like this happen everyday, construction gets delayed. In the end, Scientology did what they were supposed to do and they paid the fine promptly. I bet this kind of thing happens to religious institutions everyday.
Lee Diekemper October 07, 2011 at 06:40 PM
Ben/Rae: This is news for a number of reasons. One is that it is believed to be the highest code enforcement fine paid in the city's history. Two, had this gone to collections, or further, legal proceedings, it would have cost the city money, i.e. tax dollars.
choocho October 07, 2011 at 07:15 PM
Ben, you're a Scientologist contractor and you don't like anything negative being mentioned about Scientology? You're actually not one of those OSA internet patroller guys, are you?
choocho October 07, 2011 at 07:17 PM
Do you feel like it was a "bs fee" because you're a Scientologist internet marketer?
choocho October 07, 2011 at 07:17 PM
Why are you referring to Scientologists in the third person?
Alma Winterworth October 08, 2011 at 09:10 AM
Lee's right. It's certainly news. But so are two other aspects: 1. I want to know what plans the city has for this money! It is a huge windfall. Will it be frittered away, go to good uses, maybe directly into schools? Or will it go for some progressive cause like Police Sensitivity Training in a Non-Vegan World? 2. In my personal view, this is City Hall-legalized deep-pockets extortion. In "that other paper," Scientology haters constantly constantly whine that scientology uses the courts too much. Sure didn't happen here did it?
choocho October 08, 2011 at 10:42 AM
It's not a windfall, it's a fine that Scientology deserves to pay for it's actions, or in this case, inaction. Since Scientology does not give one dollar to anything charitable, they'd probably use this money to fund attacks against critics or add to their real-estate empire of empty buildings, this money is almost certainly being put to better use. You Scientologists do use the courts to harass and intimidate critics, per L Ron's orders, you didn't do it here because it was probably going to be a losing battle, simple enough.
Thetan Mama October 08, 2011 at 08:17 PM
10 Ways that the City of Clearwater can use this money from scientology 1. Repair roads, bridges, sidewalks, streetlamps, etc. 2. Provide food and shelter for the homeless and/or unemployed and pay supplemental funds for utility bills for the unemployed of Clearwater. 3. Improve tourist attractions iin Clearwater vis a vis, beaches, hotels, restaurant, parks, trails, (especially bike trails), public transportation. 4. Provide funds for tutoring services in reading and math for k-12 public schools in Clearwater. 5. Job training programs for high school seniors and graduates. 6. Grants to small businessess (not scientology-affilated) that will provide employment to Clearwater residents. 7. Alternative energy projects, e.g. wind, solar to benefit the City of Clearwater. 8. Recreational centers and programs for teens and/or seniors. 9. Support humane shelters for stray and abused animals. 10. Shelters and job training for battered women. Fantastic. Now that the City of Clearwater has collected the $ from $cientology that was owed, I hope that they use the money wisely for the REAL residents of Clearwater.
Barti Ddu October 09, 2011 at 04:54 PM
$400,000.00 is about 1/3 of 1% of the annual budget - which has expenditures of about $10,000,000 a month. So the $cientologists money is about one day of operation for Clearwater - hardly a windfall!

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