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Planning Commission Recommends Approval Of Christian Tourist Resort

An artist's rendering of the redesigned Morris Cerullo Legacy Center is seen in this undated photo.
Morris Cerullo World Evangelism
An artist's rendering of the redesigned Morris Cerullo Legacy Center is seen in this undated photo.

Planning Commission Recommends Approval Of Christian Tourist Resort
The San Diego Planning Commission has recommended approval of a Christian-themed tourist resort and missionary training center in Mission Valley. The project has been downsized since last year, when opponents expressed fears of the project's traffic impacts.

UPDATE: 11:57 a.m., June 8, 2017

The San Diego Planning Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to recommend approval of a new Christian-themed tourist resort and missionary training center in Mission Valley.

San Diego-based preacher and televangelist Morris Cerullo has been seeking to redevelop the 18-acre property on Hotel Circle South for nearly a decade. It is currently home to the Mission Valley Resort Hotel and a liquor store.

Cerullo would tear down the existing buildings and build a "Legacy Center," including a luxury hotel, theater, restaurant, gift shop and museum. It would also include a learning center in which Cerullo's ministry would teach and train missionaries from other countries.

Planning commissioners could not approve the project outright, only recommend approval to the City Council. Council members have final say over the approval and are likely to cast a vote sometime this summer.

The commissioners praised the project's architectural design. The main point of criticism regarded pedestrian access to the site, particularly from the adjacent public bus stop.

"You're forcing somebody who takes transit to take a very circuitous route, based upon your current pedestrian plan, to get into the project" said commission chair Stephen Haase. "That's not how we should be doing business anymore."

The commissioners' motion included a recommendation that pedestrian access be improved, that the Legacy Center's operators charge for parking and that infrastructure for future electric vehicle charging stations be incorporated into the parking.

Cerullo, 85, said at an announcement dinner last month that the Legacy Center would be a lasting monument to his international ministry.

"I've had conferences in this city with as many as 5,000 people packed out the convention center downtown," he said. "Hundreds and thousands from all the different nations of the world have come to San Diego. And they are going to come, believe me."

RELATED: Opposition Builds Against San Diego Televangelist Project

Over the past year, the Legacy Center has gone under a complete redesign. Cerullo hired local architecture firm Carrier Johnson + Culture to overhaul the design and give it a more modern feel.

"The architecture at Legacy Center needs to be able to speak to people at many different levels," Jim Penner, the project's executive director, said in a promotional video. "It needs to speak to a visitor who's a casual Christian or maybe even an atheist who's being dragged there by a relative — because that does happen."

The Legacy Center attracted opposition last year over its potential impacts on traffic in Mission Valley — a neighborhood already plagued by congestion — and because of the more controversial elements of Cerullo's ministry, such as his efforts to convert Jews to Christianity and his embrace of the widely discredited "ex-gay" movement.

Federal law confers some protection to religious organizations seeking to develop land for their religious activities, meaning Cerullo's theology should have no bearing on the city's decision to approve the project. However the mixed-use nature of the Legacy Center could complicate the argument that the project is wholly religious in nature and therefore protected under the law.

The impacts on traffic are also less of a concern for city officials now because the project's new design is smaller and is expected to generate fewer vehicle trips.