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Apartment may have been overcrowded

by Mary Youmans
Clearwater Sun

The number of people who lived in a Hacienda Gardens apartment that caught fire Tuesday may exceed what is permitted by city ordinance.

   Hacienda Gardens is a 200-unit complex owned by the Church of Scientology.  At the time of the Tuesday afternoon fire, officials found 10 beds in a two-bedroom apartment in the complex.

   Scientology officials say seven people were living in the dwelling, but two recently move out.  The apartment contains 800 square feet, but its bedrooms total about 140 square feet.

   A city ordinance passed in 1984 states all hotels, motels, dormitories and lodging houses must contain at least 50 square feet for each resident.

   City Manager Tony Shoemaker wrote a memo to commissioners saying he believes the dwelling was overcrowded.  Shoemaker met with building and fire officials Thursday, and "... it is our feeling that this clearly was a situation of overcrowding in that room.

   "... it will be our intention to bring this before the Code Enforcement Board as well as possibly taking other actions that may be deemed appropriate," Shoemaker wrote.

  Building Chief of Inspections Dave Christiansen declined comment Thursday on the meeting or whether any codes were violated.  Fire Chief Robert Davidson said Deputy Fire Chief Dave Kinsey also declined comment Thursday.

   The 1984 ordinance sparked debated at the time it was passed.  The city contended it filled a gap in the city's housing code.  The ordinance also requires a minimum number of facilities such as toilets and outlets in lodging houses and hotel rooms.

  Scientology officials contended the ordinance was aimed at their church, which uses the Fort Harrison Hotel building as an international headquarters for members.

   The church bought Hacienda Gardens, 551 Saturn Ave. N., in July for $4.6 million.