CLEARWATER, Fla. - Thousands of Scientologists from all over the world are headed to Clearwater.
Construction crews are building a huge temporary tent structure, according to the city, to accommodate a November Scientology Association gathering near the intersection of Franklin and Garden Streets.
But the city says the Church made extra room for its guests illegally.
"They had asked if the trees could come down as part of that building going up and we don't allow trees to come down for a temporary structure," said City of Clearwater spokesperson Joelle Castelli.
The city just slapped Scientology with a hefty fine after the Church cut down two live oaks with no explanation and no permits.
"They were mature trees," said Castelli.
She says Clearwater works to protect oaks just like Tampa and St. Petersburg requiring permits to cut them down if they're a certain size.
"We are always looking at the balance of protecting trees. We are a Tree City USA and have been for many, many years," she said.
I contacted the arborist who was contracted for the project who says he recommended the trees be saved and relocated. Instead, both of them were cut down over the weekend.
A Church of Scientology spokesperson wouldn't answer my questions on camera or on the phone, instead responding in writing to why they cut down the trees illegally.
The statement reads:
"We work diligently to enhance the environment and not only upgrade and maintain our buildings in keeping with their heritage as we have with the Fort Harrison, the Clearwater Bank Building and the Sandcastle to name a few, but are known for our beautiful landscaping not just in Clearwater but all all over the world."
The statement goes on to say the upcoming Scientology gathering "will infuse a significant shot in the City's economic engine."
Scientology also paid the city's two thousand dollar penalty for ignoring the rules. The site is reportedly the location of the new L. Ron Hubbard Concert Hall.
"They would have come down as part of their project to redevelop their entire site when they build their auditorium, but they hadn't done their site clearing permit or the building permit for that structure yet," said Castelli.