BY ALEX SARDAR
Asbarez Staff Writer
GLENDALEThe Glendale City Council–during its regular meeting Tuesday heard argumen’s and voted to delist St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church–along with Holy Family Roman Catholic Church and the First Baptist Church of Glendale from the city’s historic preservation ordinance list.
In what became several hours of passionate testimony–City Council members considered the recommendations of an environmental impact report–ordered by the five-member body in November 1995– when the case was first brought before the Council.
The report–which was conducted by an independent agency–did not recommend that the Council delist the churches–however–testimony by community members–legal personnel–and City staff convinced the City Council that delisting would be the only real option available for a resolution of the case.
Legal counsel for St. Mary’s–Eric Olson–in his testimony pointed out that–as he had brought to the attention of the city–the historic preservation ordinance has a clear element of property owners’ rights– and according to Olson–St. Mary’s owners were never notified of their status as a historic landmark when the building was first purchased.
Olson went on to explain that during the Nov. 28–1995 hearing–the Council had recognized all the elemen’s contained within the environmental impact report–however at that time the members of the council had overwhelmingly supported the delisting of the church. Therefore–Olson said–"…there is no reason why the Council should change its mind and its vote. You’ll find that the environmental impact report is extremely narrow in its scope."
Speaking on behalf of St. Mary’s and the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church– Right Rev. Moushegh Mardirossian–Prelate–emphasized the importance of delisting St. Mary’s and the other two churches–because the designation–according to the Prelate–infringed on the rights of church goers. "To alleviate this situation–we urge you to reconsider our request to reclassify the present status of our Church–to allow us to exercise our rights and to conduct our church and community affairs in accordance with traditions–religious rites–and family values without outside interference and restrictions."
Rafi Manoukian–Chairman of the Armenian National Committee-Glendale Chapter conveyed the will of the Armenian-American community of Glendale. He said–"We–the people request from you–our elected officials–to remove our churches–our houses of worship from the clutches of the bureaucratic red tape of historical societies–and preservation commissions–and worst of all–your staff."
While historic preservation members and commissioners also testified before the council–an overwhelming number of speakers supported the churches’ request to be delisted. Members of the council also engaged in lively debates with city staff in assessing the situation and finding a resolution.
Vahik Satoorian–member of the Prelacy Executive Council–in a very passionate speech–told the attendees that the environmental impact report considered many factors–but–according to him–there was one very important element missing in the report and that was the will of the people of Glendale.
"The most important issue–the social and religious needs of the people of Glendale is missing in this report. The report talks about the potential demolition of the churches–but does not address the human element." Father Joseph Shea–Pastor of the Holy Family Church asserted that he found the method of listing the churches in the 1970’s "unfair and unethical."
Toward the end of the hearing–City Manager Dave Ramsey recommended to the Council that the churches be delisted–because–he said–"I strongly believe that the principle of separation of church and state simply outweighs the preservation issue. We need to go back to the values of this country."
Councilwoman Mary Ann Plumley concluded–"I think the will of the people should be taken into consideration. I have seen what they have had to go through to make minor change. I do feel we need to remove these restrictions we have imposed on them."
Council members strongly supported the delisting of the churches and at the same time spoke of the responsibilities of the church communities to ensure the maintenance of the historic value of their landmarks–as long as it did not infringe on their rights to practice their religion.
Council voted 4-0 to instruct City Attorney Scott Howard to prepare findings–based on the social–economic and legal elemen’s of the issue. The technical vote was scheduled for March 25.