Pacifica, CA

It just got a little harder, but maybe not impossible, to build a megachurch in Pacifica, CA

Kristen Philipkoski

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Central temple of Iglesia ni Cristo along Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City, photo via Wikipedia

The Iglesia ni Cristo church purchased a former equestrian center at 650 Cape Breton late last year. But since the property was not zoned for holding church services, the new property owner quickly applied for a temporary use permit “to operate a church within a tent erected beneath an existing covered arena structure for a period not to exceed six months.”

The permit application claimed the increased traffic on Cape Breton, which is a residential cul-de-sac, would be negligible. But nearby residents were skeptical and the Nextdoor app erupted with concerns, and many neighbors voiced their concerns at Pacifica Planning Commission meetings.

The good news for the neighbors is that on March 15, the board voted to exclude churches and certain other institutions and organizations from applying for special use permits in Pacifica. Meeting minutes describe the change as it pertains to churches as follows:

A revision to the list of uses which may be authorized by approval of a special use permit, by removing heliports, institutions of a philanthropic nature, churches, organized off-road vehicle parks, and lodges and clubhouses.

The bad news is that the church has now applied for a permanent use permit, and it's unclear whether that can be approved.

Iglesia Ni Cristo, a megachurch established in 1914 in the Philippines with 156 locations, approximately 7,000 congregations and 3 million members around the world purchased the 1.89 acre lot for $3.49 million in December 2020. Cape Breton is a residential cul-de-sac so narrow that two cars can't drive it opposite directions simultaneously—one needs to move over. The land was formerly the home of horse stables and riding lessons.

Neighbors in the area have expressed concern that a church on the site would increase traffic congestion and fire danger, take up all the parking spots, and disrupt the quiet environment the neighborhood currently enjoys. Iglesia Ni Cristo churches typically meet nearly every day of the week.

Workers were recently spotted carrying pews into existing buildings on the property. The activity alarmed neighbors because while the church now owns the land, the Pacifica Planning Commission has not approved the site for church services. Neighbors also spotted pews being moved in and other work being performed at the site.

City of Pacifica building inspector Earl Jeremiah issued a "stop work order," which means all construction work must stop immediately at former equestrian complex as of March 8 when the order was posted

At a January 19 Pacifica city planning meeting, many neighbors opposed the permit as well as a future church being built on the property, expressing concerns about traffic congestion, potential fire danger, historical preservation of the land and further disruption to the neighborhood where children bike and play. They also complained that they had not been informed sooner about the sale of the land and its potential use.

The planning committee pushed further discussion of the issue to a February 16 city planning meeting, where they heard more public comments, one of which pointed out that incorrect permits were currently being used in the matter. The committee once again pushed further discussion and any decisions on the to an as-yet determined future date.

At the March 1 city planning meeting, commenters said they've seen workers pouring cement and plumbing work being done at the site. Cars and trucks, including U-Hauls, are driving in and out of the site daily and disturbing the neighborhood, all before temporary use or construction permits are approved.

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I'm a veteran writer and editor and founder of Mean Magazine and The Mean Podcast for GenX women. I write about everything from fashion to science and everything in between. I’ve written for Racked, Refinery 29, 7x7, SF Chronicle, Wired, Gizmodo and many others.

Pacifica, CA
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