A battle is brewing in Venice, California, between local residents and a billionaire family planning to convert a church into a mansion.
At issue is the fate of the historic First Baptist Church, a 109-year old church mostly used by members of the black community. Jay Penske, son of billionaire auto racing entrepreneur Roger Penske, and his wife want to convert the shuttered building into an 11,000 square foot mansion, including a roof deck and four-car garage.
The Penskes outlined their plans earlier this week at a meeting of the West LA Planning Commission. Some locals were unimpressed.
"It is a sickness that you want to go into a community and care more about your own dream to have a huge mansion than about a neighborhood a historical neighborhood that suffered and struggled to build a church," one resident said.
Others complained that the mega-mansion would be ostentatious in Venice, a beach town long known for its countercultural vibe.
But some residents at the meeting spoke in favor of the Penske's decision to renovate the building.
"These people are assets to the community. This building is an adaptive reuse of the existing structure," one person said.
Penske and his wife -- former supermodel Elaine Penske, who was once married to musician John Mellencamp -- said they'd spoken with many community members who were not opposed to the renovations.
"We've had extensive conversation, exchanges in emails with community members ... we've received numerous letters from neighbors offering support," Elaine Penske testified.