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Billionaire's Plan To Convert Venice Church Into Mega Mansion Under Fire

WEST LOS ANGELES  (CBSLA)  -- A nasty battle is brewing in Venice with residents in two distinct camps.

Many people are furious that a billionaire family wants to build a mega mansion in the vicinity. To erect the home, a historic black church would have to come down.

Some residents are asking the Penske family to leave the First Baptist Church of Venice -- located in the 600 block of Westminster Avenue -- alone.

Others see the proposed mansion as a boon to property values.

KCAL9's Crystal Cruz said the community debated the pros and cons of the move at a meeting Wednesday evening looking to find common ground.

"I would call it white privilege," says Venice resident Naomi Nightengale, "arrogance that says I have the money this is what I want so I should be able to do it."

Nightingale can't believe Jay Penske -- son of billionaire Roger Penske -- and wife want to convert a 109-year-old closed church in Venice and build an 11,0000-square-foot mansion with a roof top deck and four-car garage.

"This is ostentatious anywhere, even in Bel Air. It's especially ostentatious in Venice," said one man.

Wednesday night, protesters shared their concerns over the mega mansion with the West LA Planning Commission.

"It is a sickness that you want to go into a community and care more about your own dreams to have a huge mansion than about a neighborhood," said one woman.

Penske and his wife, former supermodel Elaine Irwin Penske, who was once married to rocker John Mellencamp, also spoke to the commission and declined to speak to Cruz.

"We've had extensive conversation, exchanges of email, calls and meetings with community members and residents, often with multiple families, some individual. In addition, we've received numerous letters from the neighbors and surrounding neighbors sharing their stories and offering support," Elaine Penske told the commission.

Some of the residents gathered Wednesday spoke in favor of the Penske's mansion.

"These people are assets to the community. This building is an incredibly adaptive reuse of the existing structure," said one man.

"The people who live across the street are not going to see any difference than what was there before, if anything they're going to see less traffic," said another.

The commission could not decide on a vote this evening, and decided to postpone a vote until Aug. 15.

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