Scientology Cathedral Could Cost Church $400,000 in Fines

The city's Code Enforcement Board fined the Church of Scientology $413,500 for an expired permit for the construction of the Flag Building. Church officials said they are looking at their next options, which could include appealing the fine in court.

Playing a “shell game” with the city could cost the Church of Scientology more than $400,000.

The city’s code enforcement Board reduced a $451,500 fine for expired permits to $413,500 during its meeting Wednesday.

However, that was a large difference from the $45,250 an attorney for the Church offered.

Now, church officials said they are looking at their next options, which could include appealing the fine in circuit court.

Pat Harney, spokeswoman for the church, did not say what exactly the next step will be though. She did say the final touches to the interior are being completed on the seven story mecca building.

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

The fines accrued when construction stopped on the “shell and core” of the church’s city-block sized Flag Building at 215 S Ft Harrison Ave in 2006.

Ed Armstrong, attorney representing the church, said the Church is willing to pay $45,250 for the fines accrued up to April 30, 2007.

At the time, Armstrong said that about $300,000 worth of landscaping and sidewalks were installed and the chain link fence surrounding the building was removed, and by doing so it made the building “functionally compliant.”

The final inspection and certificate of occupancy was issued in June.

And although quarterly notices of the $250-a-day fines were sent to church officials and members working on other construction projects met “almost daily” with city building officials for years, no one ever appealed.

“I don’t believe a good faith effort was made,” board member Donald Van Weezel said. “I don’t believe functional compliance is compliance. So I don’t feel that criteria was satisfied.”

A conditional certificate could have been sought before then though, said Kevin Garriott, a Clearwater building official. That would have been enough to comply with the code enforcement ruling, he said.

The seven-story building took about 12 years to be built. And now the final interior touches are being completed, Harney said.

“This is our cathedral,” Harney said. “It’s not just some simple process of building an office.”

Reasons for reducing fines include the property owner comes into complianceor or is in extreme hardship.

“Apparently (the fine) wasn’t taken seriously,” board member Sheila Cole said. “This board’s order wasn’t taken seriously and that really bothers me right now.”

The church could appeal the fine at the circuit court level. The case might be based on some statistics attorneys brought during the meeting.

They found 1,870 cases where permits and work order expired, but only the Church was cited.

"The Flag building is the only case we've found that the owner was sent to the code enforcement board for this issue,” said Cindy Terapani, who works as a building consultant in New Port Richey. “It's highly unusual in the 11 and a half years of data we evaluated and the only case that had that particular situatuon where an expired permit was the basis to go to code enforcement."

Board member Duane Schultz said they should be looking at reducing the fine, not at numbers of previous cases.

“All these other cases aren’t relevant for what we are here to do,” Schultz said. “We should base our decision on this case. The city brings us these cases we don’t go out looking.”

Assistant city attorney Camilo Soto said the difference is that no other building in Clearwater is the size of a city block and has taken nearly 15 years to construct.

“What we have is a self inflicted shell game,” Soto said. “We literally have a shell of a building that has been wrapped up into bigger and bigger building permits.”

Soto said the city would reduce the fine because of a five-month period in 2006 when it would have been impossible to reactivate the work permits.

Soto said the Church also chose to work on eight other projects including renovating the Fort Harrison Hotel, the Oak Cove condominiums and the Sand Castle resort.

“I believe there were various other projects to focus on other than this large, expansive, one-block building essentially since October 1998,” Soto said. “A large part of this was self inflicted by the property owner."

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
Alma Winterworth August 25, 2011 at 07:27 AM
This sure sounds like a Leftist scheme to make up for years of bad fiscal city management by suddenly soaking the Scientologists. Why should one successful organization--all at once--be forced into being the city's financial savior? Clearwater reminds me of the college kid who overspends all semester, then writes home for a crash cash transfusion so he can fly home and get Mom to do his laundry. This church has free public literacy programs, anti-drug educational programs, and prisoner-reform and education programs. Must it now offer a class in Remedial Municipal Management?
BULLET August 25, 2011 at 12:03 PM
the SCIENTOLOGISTS should just take downtown and put a fence around it they own everthing this will keep the city out .....you will never see any money from them they have too many lawyers
Carter Johns August 25, 2011 at 12:09 PM
The 'church' of scientology seems to think it is above the law, on the human rights abuses carried out in scientology's paramilitary 'Sea Org', on its refusal to comply with the financial transparency that other religious groups or organisations adhere to. I applaud the fact that the Clearwater authorities are holding the scientology organisation to account for what is clearly either a refusal to comply with regulations or chronic incompetence.
choocho August 25, 2011 at 01:06 PM
Alma Winterworth is a Scientology Office of Special Affairs "internet patroller". She's using the comments section for Scientology marketing spam, Scientology is 50,000 or less people and shrinking everyday and Scientology does nothing for free.
choocho August 25, 2011 at 01:09 PM
Google "Operation Normandy", it was Scientology's and L Ron Hubbard's secret plan to invade and take over Clearwater, by buying up properties using front-groups, boy does Scientology love front-groups.
Skydog August 25, 2011 at 01:18 PM
How is it that the church spends upwards of $20,000 a day stalking and harassing Mike Rinder, Marty Rathbun, etc. but can't cough up the pittance of $250.oo a day for not complying with the city's legal requirements? Is the course in "Remedial Municipal Management" you suggest going to be based on the writings of Elron Hubbard? If so, the laws of supply and demand suggest you look for fraud victims elsewhere. Newsflash-your religion has fewer than 50,000 people world-wide. No one is buying your bs. Any "success" your organization has is based on lies, fraud, and the wholesale violation of human rights-not as a result of any serious business acumen of your dwarf leader David Miscavige.
Scott Pilutik August 25, 2011 at 05:01 PM
Nice work Alma, you really showed them. Hopefully that class in Remedial Municipal Management sets aside at least one day to explain how to spend $89 million dollars over 12 years building a 127,000 sq ft eyesore that's guaranteed to remain empty for decades to come. If Scientology can't teach the course, perhaps the North Koerans can step in, given that they alone retain Scientology's same gift for creating unoccupied architectural behemoths lacking any economic rationale.
dean fox August 25, 2011 at 05:46 PM
The church of scientology should just pay the fine and be done with it. Until they do this story will run and run. If the city is guilty of fiscal mismanagent surely compunding this error by letting the church of scientology off with the fines doesn't make sense; if anything getting tough on the big corporations instead of picking on the soft targets and letting the big boys do as they please is a step in the right direction. The church of scientology has around $6,500million US in cash reserves and over $7,900million US in other assets around the world. They can afford this fine but they arrogantly feel the rules they call "wog" law don't apply to them.
Anon August 25, 2011 at 08:59 PM
I wonder how much of the scientology foot dragging on the completion of the SP building was because the so-called church continued to squeeze its members for more and more 'donation' money to complete the darn thing. I understand much more than the price of construction was raised. Is that even legal according to the tax laws? Can they make a profit without it being taxed?
phuhq2 August 26, 2011 at 06:31 AM
$₵I€₦₮O£₲¥ This is what $cientology is all about as it spreads it's tentacles world wide. Copy it and expand it in another typeset and it looks great. I copied it from the Symbol feature in MS Word. Viva Xenu! pq2!
imominous August 26, 2011 at 01:52 PM
Please don't. Your grasp of the subject appears tenuous. Clearwater is the parent of a college kid who, when faced with a history test, made a conscious decision to practice his football passes and study English instead. The cult chose to work on other buildings, rather than the SP Building. They lagged, dragged, futzed around. And then flunked the history test. Free literacy? Yay, Hubbard and clay tables! Anti drug programs? Yay, quackery and snake oil! Prisoner reform? Yeah...every program Scientology offers is nothing but a recruitment scam dressed up as social reform. But at the core, it's all the same, whether criminal rehab, education or anti-drug fronts. Purif and Green Vols, that's it. You're no benefit to Clearwater. Your cult has killed downtown. Your city has, in the past, been a joke, a pack of lap dogs slurping up every outrageous lie told by the cult. The times, they are a'changing. Perhaps your perceptics need a tune-up, Alma. It's surprising that your vaunted Homo Novis can't see the writing on the wall. From closing missions to Ideal Org properties being forclosed on, razed, or returned to the market to the impending collapse of the Narconon scam, the future of Scientology looks very dim on Teegeack.
Heber Jenszch August 29, 2011 at 02:37 AM
If it were just about the money, and suckers paying a million bucks for some sci-fi cult secret alien reincarnation story, I would be fine with it. Fact is, these creeps have been trying to take over regular people's lives and towns for decades, and they don't care who gets hurt in the process. So far they have pretty much failed, but it's great to see Clearwater city elders finally wising up to the fact that scientology is a universally hated criminal cult, and with the full backing of folk who actually live there 24/7, not the malnourished little white shirted creeps who get driven in by school bus from their little brainwashing camps. There are no "superpowers", no such thing as OTs, and there are no "clears" and never have been. What is left of the shrinking cult membership is also finally waking up to the lie, and I trust that the good folk of Clearwater will do it's best to help the victims of the cult once the full extent of this cruel and greedy operation is dismantled once and for all time.
pakita August 29, 2011 at 12:33 PM
City of Clearwater knows they can get some outcry and public support in levying fines against the church. But deal with the building department and see holes: little accountability for who is in charge, mistakes with inspections, weak communication avenues and fines issued without merit and/or by error. The contractor pays - there is no recourse. Is there public oversight to look into Clearwater Building Department? Not saying the Church shouldn't owe plenty in fines for a derelict and alien building, but this issue uncovers more than one side to explore.
William Johnson August 29, 2011 at 04:48 PM
"Functional Compliance" means that you paid the damned fine! You didn't. End of story. Man these culties drive me nuts sometimes.
D August 31, 2011 at 03:45 AM
oy! Did this story get re-run or something?? All the previous comments are gone!!!!!! :( :( It was pretty much the same tenor - Scientology sucks, person x is a shill for them, etc. - but there were more facts involved. More hard evidence that CoS does in fact blow chunks. And now? Gone!! Not cool, bro
Jared Leone August 31, 2011 at 08:40 PM
I think you mean the comments in this blog post? http://clearwater.patch.com/blog_posts/one-fine-mess-in-clearwater
Sarah Spandpotus March 26, 2012 at 09:18 PM
C'mon you guys are getting the story squed screwed and sub dude. These little koolaide drinking blowbots do nothing on their own but help it is the top corporate types that suck the life out of every unsuspecting thing they touch. I mean the real scienotologists are leaving in droves and call themselves independants. The monster that made the "CHURCH" nothing but a money raper was Mister Tom Cruz ass kizzer Misdirectedcavige. So if a couple of buildings stay idle and a few kids have to work 60 more hours a week you should see the overall good it does for their morels. Hey my dad beat me and it did me good now I not only straighten out my kids by beatings I use it as part of my daycare practice and it works just like scientology. So back the heck off censorship is wrong!


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