Pointe-Claire residents bringing city to court in an effort to block Coptic church expansion

Click to play video 'Fight over Pointe-Claire Coptic church expansion continues in court' Fight over Pointe-Claire Coptic church expansion continues in court
WATCH: Pointe-Claire residents are taking the city to court in a bid to block a Coptic church from expanding. As Global's Dan Spector explains, the controversial project has divided the community. – Feb 21, 2020

A pair of Pointe-Claire residents are taking the city to court in a bid to block a Coptic church from expanding.

Members of Saint Peter and Saint Paul Coptic Orthodox Church in Pointe-Claire thought the controversy surrounding their beloved place of worship was over, but they were wrong.

“We’re very disappointed,” said church board member Shahir Guindi.

For years, the church at the intersection of de l’Eglish and Lakeshore Boulveard has wanted to demolish an old abandoned school right next door and replace it with a new building that would house a social hall, Sunday school classes and a gymnasium.

Anna Merulla, who lives across the street from the church, is among those who are strongly opposed to the idea.

“We have nothing against the church,” she told Global News in March 2019. “We’re opposed to a very large project in our small lakefront area.”

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After complaints from residents, the city arranged a referendum. People in the area voted in favour of the expansion 66-58, and the church won.

READ MORE: After referendum, Pointe-Claire Coptic church expansion project gets green light

“The ultimate authority is the people, and the people have voted to support this,” Guindi said on Friday.

Not long after the referendum result was announced, Guindi says the church was notified Merulla and her husband Felix Fiorello are taking Pointe-Claire to court to try to block the expansion.

“To find ourselves in court after everything the church and the neighbourhood has been through was quite discouraging,” Guindi told Global News.

The lawsuit says that when Pointe-Claire granted the church the right to expand, the city broke away from its urban planning obligations.

The complainants say years ago, the city assured them the lot next to the church would be “purely residential.”

Merulla and Fiorello demolished their old home near the church and built a bigger one. Now, their belief is the expanded church will be used for commercial purposes, which the church denies.

“The community hall we’re having is not going to be rented out for weddings, parties or anything like that,” said Guindi. “We don’t run a business. We will never run a business.”

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The suit also raises concerns about worshippers parking in the area.

READ MORE: Coptic church expansion plans divide Pointe-Claire neighbourhood

In the lawsuit, the complainants say they believe the value of their property will decline if the expansion moves forward.

“How could property values possibly go down when we’re going to demolish it (the school), and put up something beautiful in its place?” asked Guindi. “It’s an unlikely if not absurd position that property values are going to go down.”

Reached for comment on Friday by Global News, Merulla referred comment to her lawyer. Her lawyer declined to comment, instead pointing to the lawsuit document. Pointe-Claire Mayor John Belvedere also declined to comment, saying the matter is before the courts.

Litigation lawyer Jeff Orenstein says the complainants are in for a tough challenge.

“You already had a non-residential place on that lot beforehand, so to me it’s sort of foreseeable that when that gets torn down and replaced with something, it may not just be a single-family home,” he explained.

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He said legal fees to launch such a lawsuit could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

“We don’t think it’s going to be successful, we’re hopeful it’s not going to be successful,” said Guindi. “We’ve had a number of lawyers, both church’s and city lawyers, look at it. We think this is a lawsuit that’s destined not to succeed.”

For now, the church is continuing with the expansion as planned. They hope to begin demolition this year. The case is set to appear before a judge in September.