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Board facing decision on Church of Scientology

Title: Board facing decision on Church of Scientology
Date: Thursday, 5 February 2009
Publisher: The Intelligencer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Author: Freda R. Savana
Main source:

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Several residents expressed concern about the opening of a mission in their neighborhood.

In Tuesday's final hearing to determine if a house on Easton Road can be converted to a Church of Scientology mission, the property owner's attorney argued all township requirements have been met and an approval should be granted.

In fact, Robert Gundlach, the lawyer representing A. Rhodes Wilson, said his client exceeded what the law requires by providing sewer, water and traffic studies.

He urged Plumstead officials to take careful note of federal law that protects the right to freedom of religion.

Plumstead officials steered clear of the religious freedom issue, instead questioning whether the 2 1/2-acre property is large enough to meet the buffer requirements they believe are needed.

Supervisors have 45 days to issue a decision on the matter. They said they'll discuss the issue at a Feb. 17 meeting.

Wilson's efforts to convert the five-bedroom, ranch-style house into the Bucks County mission of the controversial church weren't well-received by some residents.

Although Thomas Barnes' Potters Lane home won't be directly affected by the center, he wondered "who comes there, from where, for these 'therapy sessions?' "

He expressed concerns about the septic system too and claimed Wilson is simply looking to rent the house to pay his mortgage and taxes.

Speaking for a number of homeowners, Daniel Belz said the main objection to the conversion is that it is not really a house of worship, but a business, and should be evaluated as one.

Wilson, who said he's been a Scientologist for three years and is the mission's director, stated members would pay a fee for the classes and counseling at the center. The Church of Scientology would pay rent for use of the property. Wilson and his wife, Jana, live in Buckingham.

"It leaves us very concerned about the number of people in the building every day. There will be far more activity than is appropriate," said Belz. "It must be remembered this is still a residential area."

For years, the Wilsons battled with Plumstead over their right to use the dwelling as an office for Wilson's accounting business. A number of modifications were reportedly made to the house before the township intervened.

The couple lost their bid to use the house as an office when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against them several years ago.

In July, the Wilsons applied for approval to use the property as a house of worship.