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Hindu temple closer to building in Richfield

12/6/2007 - West Side Leader
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By Jeff Gorman

RICHFIELD VILLAGE — After months of contentious hearings, the Richfield Village Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) approved the preliminary plan for the construction of Sree Venkateswara Temple Nov. 27.

The decision concluded the Hindu temple group’s search for a home in Richfield after two previous failed attempts. Pending final approval from the PZC, the group will build a 4,609-square-foot structure on almost 7 acres of residentially zoned property near the corner of Brecksville and Townsend roads.

According to Zoning Inspector Roger Swan, preliminary plan approval is a step in obtaining a conditional-use permit needed to construct the temple. Swan said the next opportunity the temple group could appear before the PZC with final plans is Jan. 22. The deadline to be placed on the agenda for that meeting — which will take place at 8 p.m. at the Town Hall, 4410 W. Streetsboro Road — is Jan. 8, said Swan.

The group previously tried to build the temple at the corner of Black and Boston Mills roads in Richfield Township, but that request was denied by the township’s Board of Zoning Appeals. The group then was interested in property on Hawkins Road in the village. The village’s PZC denied that proposal because the site offered no sewer and water availability and was not located on a main thoroughfare, according to Swan.

Residents attended four hearings to voice their opposition to the temple plan, but ultimately the PZC voted 4-1 to approve it. Members George Strongosky, Brenda Schult, Charles Boester and Peter Schueler voted for the approval, while Mark Kearney voted against it.

“I can’t vote in favor of this,” said Kearney before the vote. “I can’t be assured that the temple would be harmonious and appropriate in appearance. We can’t control the size of the operation.”

At the previous hearing Sept. 25, the PZC asked the temple group to conduct a tree survey and make a grading plan for the parking lot.

Village Engineer Chuck Hauber and Swan both said the group had met all of the requirements for preliminary plan approval.

Schult proposed placing conditions on the approval to ensure the site would be harmonious with its surroundings. However, Schueler said the PZC shouldn’t be dealing with future developments.

Schult replied that she wanted the temple group to know what elements the PZC would expect before granting final approval.

Another condition Schult suggested was the addition of at least 65 trees to provide landscape screening for the west side of the property. She added the lights shouldn’t be too overwhelming, but they should be enough to provide safety.

Strongosky said the conditions should be noted but not required for the preliminary plan. The plan was ultimately approved without conditions.

Attorneys on behalf of both sides spoke at the hearing.

“All legal and zoning requirements have been met,” said Jay Porter, the temple group’s attorney. “We believe we have done everything the commission has asked us to do.”

“We are saving 22 of the trees in the area,” said Bill Berger, the temple group’s architect. “That represents 24 percent of the trees in our tree survey.”

Attorney Lee Cole spoke on behalf of the neighbors who opposed the construction of the Hindu temple on that site. The residents who live near the site have said they are concerned about an increase in traffic and noise and the influx of strangers into the residential neighborhood. Residents also are concerned the glare of parking lot lights would devalue homes in the neighborhood.

“You need to follow your own ruling on the Hawkins Road property,” Cole said. “A property like this is supposed to be adjacent to a park or school so they can share parking space.”

Members of the Primosch family, who own significant property in the area, traveled from all over the country to attend the hearing.

“I don’t dislike Indian people or their culture,” said Larry Primosch, who traveled from California to attend the hearing. “This is just the wrong place for it. The application doesn’t meet four of the seven standards for a conditional use nor one of the five standards for a church.”

Boester responded the PZC already had discussed those issues.

“This is a residential area,” said Beth Primosch-Malone, who lives in Arizona. “This is our second home, and there is nothing like the solitude and serenity of our place.”

Other residents spoke on both sides of the issue.

“I was there in 1974 when the Monroeville [Pa.] temple opened,” said Surinder Bhardwaj, a Kent State University professor. “It is an important cultural center for children and for numerous universities in the United States.”

“I’m disappointed that we would be adding another building and more traffic,” said Susie Scott, a Charlton Road resident. “It’s just too much.”

“Over 500 people signed a petition opposing this project,” said Beth Newcomb, a Brush Road resident. “That should count for something.”

Village Mayor Mike Lyons said he was concerned about the impact of the temple on the Hutton property to the south.

“This would put the Huttons in an untenable position,” he said. “Also, there would be no physical relationship between the temple and the nearby nursing home and doctor’s office.”

Village Council Vice President Bobbie Beshara also gave her opinion.

“I don’t think it’s harmonious with the area,” she said. “It’s a building nobody will want to look at when buying property.”

Rosemary Lassiter, a Brush Road resident, mentioned the PZC’s previous denial of the approval on Hawkins Road.

“You voted ‘no’ on this temple before on flat, clear land,” she said. “Now, you are trying to squeeze it into the back yards of residential property. We’re going to keep [attorney] Lee Cole, and this will end up wherever it has to end up.”

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