The Tampa Tribune

Scientologists cited for crowded living conditions

by Abdon M. Pallasch

April 21, 1992

CLEARWATER - The Church of Scientology has been cited for crowding too many people into its Hacienda Gardens apartments on North Saturn Avenue, city documents show.

Church officials blame the problem on renovation work. They've asked the city for permission to have the complex treated like a dormitory or boarding house, but city officials say they have to meet traditional apartment standards.

In some cases, the church has converted dining rooms or livings rooms into bedrooms to make two-bedroom apartments from what were one-bedroom apartments. Two sets of bunk beds were placed in the bedroom and the converted bedroom, said city code analyst Kevin Garrett.

That allows eight people to live in an apartment the city says is suited for only seven. The worst case was one in which 10 people were living in an apartment that should have housed only seven, Garrett said.

The city requires 150 square feet of living space for the first resident of an apartment and 100 square feet for each additional resident. Many of the apartments at the 551 N. Saturn Ave. complex are in the 800-square-foot range.

Some apartments also were cited for inadequate bathroom exhaust systems and deteriorating staircases, said city building inspector William Phillips.

Though some of the 34 over-crowded apartments reminded him of "army barracks," Phillips said, most of the 200 apartments met city code.

Church spokesman Richard Haworth blamed the overcrowding on one of the buildings being cleared out for renovations.

"Those people have to go somewhere," Haworth said.

Haworth lives at the complex in a room he shares just with his family, he said.

"I think it's great," Haworth said of the complex. "When we get done with the renovations out there, it's going to be gorgeous."

City officials first cited the church for overcrowding at the complex in 1986 when firefighters responded to a blaze there.

Church officials in the past have denied allegations by former church members who have told of overcrowded conditions at Hacienda Gardens.

"We want to be able to use our properties to the fullest," Haworth said. "If this is a significant problem, I'd be worried about it, but it's not."

Phillips first discovered overcrowding at the complex Jan. 15. He began inspecting apartments every Monday for about two months until he had seen all 200, he said.

In February, church officials asked the city for permission to be treated like a dormitory or a boarding house instead of a conventional apartment complex, Garrett said. The units all have kitchen facilities that go largely unused because most of the workers eat at the downtown cafeterias.

But city officials said the church would have to have an institution of higher learning attached to the complex to qualify for dormitory or boarding house status, said city planner Steve Doherty.

As long as church officials transfer people out of the overcrowded rooms by May 26, there will be no fines or penalties, Phillips said. Church officials have said they will comply.