In Sunnyvale's Light Industrial Zones, Diverse Faiths Flourish

September 16, 2006

Source: The Mercury News

On September 16, 2006 The Mercury News reported, "To reach Bible Way Christian Center in San Jose, turn southeast at Fry's Electronics, then left at the mill fabric sign. The squat tan building with the ``Duel Systems integrated electronics packaging'' sign on one side -- but no cross in front -- is the church. Despite its untraditional setting, flourishing Bible Way has grown to more than 500 members and soon it will be moving -- to a bigger industrial site. Churches, temples and mosques are increasingly filling warehouses, office parks and factories that once housed businesses. But critics worry that religious groups' growing attraction to the industrial sector will eventually hurt the local economy. Some businesses resist working beside religious buildings, saying parishioners might cost them thousands in liability insurance and additional environmental regulations. Cities say they can't afford to lose businesses. ``Industry is important in so many different ways to the community -- it drives employment,'' said John Pilger, a spokesman for Sunnyvale, which had temporarily put a moratorium on houses of worship and some others moving into industrial spaces. ``There's tax revenue from them that's very important. And there's other infrastructure that cascades down from that -- you need trucking, restaurants, gas stations.'' Now Sunnyvale pinpoints where places like churches, gyms and day care facilities can open on industrial lands. And last year, Fremont banned churches from the city's heavy industrial areas. In San Jose, which has seen an increase of such uses in the Edenvale neighborhood, council members have suggested creating a policy to guide such growth. For religious leaders, the appeal of such buildings is simple: They're cheap -- as low as 50 cents a square foot to lease -- and spacious, and they offer ample parking on Sundays. For a dozen years, Bible Way has been on Junction Avenue, near storage centers, sheet-metal manufacturers and granite wholesalers... Religious leaders began migrating to industrial zones years ago, but recent market changes made them attractive to mature as well as fledgling congregations. The dot-com bust created a glut of vacant industrial space. 'After 2000, no one had money to do anything except for the churches,' said Tenny Tsai, a broker at NAI BT Commercial in San Jose. She first helped a church buy a former 7-Up distribution center in 2002, and now handles about three churches a year. According to Sunnyvale city records, 'places of assembly' submitted five applications to open in industrial areas between 1995 and 2001. Since 2002, there have been 36 applications -- 14 last year."