No reason to shut Scientology group out of South Loop

By Editorial Board

Although controversy surrounds the Church of Scientology, the group has just as much of a right to have a presence in the South Loop as any church.

As reported in an article in the Feb. 2 issue of The Chronicle, local residents are at odds over plans for a Scientology Center to be built in the South Loop at 650 S. Clark St.

Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd ward) held a community meeting to discuss a proposal by the religious group to have the building’s zoning changed to a residential property, but residents are crying foul over concerns about parking, sidewalk solicitation and unwelcome attention, among other things.

But after examining those concerns, few remain reasonable, without being attacks on the religion of Scientology itself.

The main concerns for residents were parking issues and street canvassing. These, among others, have been problems for the South Loop in the past, and not something that’s likely to become a problem with the addition of one more group.

Canvassers have always been present in the South Loop. Phrases like “Can you spare a minute for the children?” or “Don’t you care about the environment?” are thrown around constantly by representatives of GreenPeace or Save the Children. Although this can get annoying, South Loop residents should be able to deal with it by now. Street canvassing from Scientology should be no different.

Parking has always been troublesome in the South Loop—it’s the southernmost side of the downtown area of the third-largest city in the United States. And with the church’s plan to lease 100 parking spots for the center, a few more cars taking up metered parking in the area would not be that big of a deal.

Another complaint is that the organization would be tax-exempt if the zoning was changed for the newcomer, as Scientology has been legally considered a church since 1993. Considering the building would most likely not be occupied by anyone else, there would be no tax revenue coming in, anyway. If residents were truly concerned with a tax-exempt group moving into the South Loop—not simply because of their disagreements with the teachings of the Church of Scientology—then they would also be speaking out against all of the buildings occupied by tax-exempt colleges like Columbia and DePaul University, the two largest owners of land in the South Loop.

A new owner of a vacant building on South Clark Street will bring in revenue in ways other than taxes. The Church of Scientology could attract visitors from out-of-state and around the world, subsequently bringing new customers to businesses in the area.

As long as the center regulates its canvassing, monitors parking and as long as the zoning change won’t lead to a larger problem like a decrease in surrounding land value, the city cannot justify preventing the Scientology Center from moving to the neighborhood.