NORWALK –The Norwalk City Council unanimously approved plans for an expansion and remodel of a Hindu Temple on Tuesday despite a fair amount of disapproval from the Temple’s immediate neighbors.
The Radha Krishna Mandir Temple, located at 12634 Pioneer Blvd., is currently neighbored by a Denny’s restaurant, a former Pizza Hut building, which the Temple now owns, and a residential neighborhood. The plans call for several site improvements so that the temple and vacated property can function as one, expanding the temple to connect to the existing restaurant building.
A Lot Merger application was also filed with the city to merge the two existing parking lots into one, which is currently in the process of being approved.
The plans were originally viewed on April 23, 2014 by the Norwalk Planning Commission, however the item was tabled to allow additional time to resolve parking related issues due to objections from the property owner of the neighboring Denny’s. A year later on April 22, the Commission adopted resolutions to approve the project and to recommend Council approval with a unanimous 3-0 vote, with two commissioners being absent.
The project quickly drew public scrutiny, and the Council received negative public comments regarding its tentative approval.
Some community members, who called themselves “Neighbors Against the Big Temple,” even purchased a quarter-page ad in the Norwalk Patriot to condemn the project and encourage the community to express their objections at Tuesday’ meeting. The ad was published on Friday, May 29.
The meeting was attended by many of the individuals who attend the temple for their religious needs, as well as those who opposed the project.
A representative of Lun Tsan Chiang Trust, who owns the property currently inhabited by Denny’s, said that they had no issue with the Temple, “just add parking.” A letter written by Leib and Leib, who represents the Chiang trust, said that “The Church membership is already too voluminous for their existing 61 spaces, so they regularly overflow into Denny’s parking. The Chiang Trust has remained neighborly and not towed their vehicles, so the practice continues, and the burden increases.”
Temple Vice President of the Board Deepak (DJ) Jhaveri denied all claims that parking was insufficient and that the population of the temple would grow after expansion and provided proof to the council, becoming increasingly passionate.
Jhaveri even suggested that there was some other factor besides city codes at play.
“God says ‘love your neighbors.’ These people love neither God nor their neighbors,” Jhaveri said. “…They are being biased and discriminatory against the minority. They should know that we are building only as per the City’s codes and guidelines.”
Many of the members of the community who appeared before the Council on Tuesday expressed concerns for the effect of the Temple’s expansion on the nearby neighborhood, especially during festival times.
One Norwalk citizen who lives nearby the religious building says that she had struggled with the Temple on many occasions before.
“My biggest complaint here is the noise. Because you are next to a residential area, you should be respectful to your neighbors as I would be respectful to you as well,” she said.
“The issue here is nuisance. The issue here is being a good neighbor,” said another community member who lives in the community behind the temple. “I understand they have their festivals and I respect that…to believe that with this expansion there will not be an increase in the population of this congregation is unrealistic…I don’t have a problem with them having their festivals, but my goodness why do they have to have them for ten days until midnight. I am furious with the city officials of Norwalk for allowing this to happen.”
However, Council members were quick to remind those in attendance that the meeting was about approval of the expansion project, and though their concerns over the impact of religious festivals on the surrounding community were valid, it was a different discussion for another time.
Council member Marcel Rodarte believed that the real issue between the Hindu Temple and its residential neighbors was a lack of understanding of cultural differences.
“I’ve been to the temple during one of your festivals,” Rodarte said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever invited the neighbors over so maybe they could better understand what your festivals are about. That’s part of being a good neighbor; maybe that’s a good idea for you guys to do…maybe just take some time to get to know each other.”