The Sant Zora Singh Lopon Charitable Trust wanted to build a Sikh temple and community center on the outskirts of Fresno. They looked for a place where 50 families could gather and pray.
Things seemed to be on their way for routine approval. Staff reports supported the project. There was no opposition from the neighbors.
Nonetheless, the Fresno County Planning Commission said no.
The supervisory board disagreed. At Tuesday’s meeting, the board overturned the committee’s decision, granting an appeal with a 5-0 vote.
“We have many churches of different denominations. I’m not sure why this was not passed by the planning committee, but as (supervisor) Nathan (Magsig) alluded to, we are the ultimate deciding voice. Staff recommend the project. I don’t see anything wrong with the project. And I would propose to accept the staff recommendation and move this idea forward, ”said Supervisor Brian Pacheco, who represents the proposed temple area.
Temple members declined to speak officially, but expressed their joy at the decision.
A “no” to the planning committee
Already owning the property at 1501 N. Brawley Avenue, just north of Olive Avenue, the trust needed a conditional use permit from the Planning Commission.
In a dossier filed with the county, Sikh temple organizers said they would meet once or twice a month on Sundays. The temple would use amplified sound, but only indoors. Up to 100 worshipers, traveling up and down the Central Valley but mostly from Fresno, would attend. Parking would be available for 50 cars.
But a letter from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife may have swayed the planning board to say no. While the CDFW did not oppose the project, it expressed concerns about the effect of the proposed temple on the Swainson’s Falcon and Burrowing Owl.
In a letter to the Planning Commission, Julie Vance, Regional Director at CDFW, recommended several mitigation measures should the project go ahead. They included investigations by biologists to determine “that the birds (hawks) have taken flight and are no longer dependent on the nest or parental care for their survival.”
Other measures included replacing trees in raptor nests and creating a half-mile undisturbed buffer zone.
In a 5-3 vote on June 10, the planning commission rejected the temple’s permit application.
Planning staff speaking to the oversight board said commissioners had commented on the proposed metal building and where worshipers came from.
“There was no testimony against the request and no discussion of the late correspondence from the California Department of Fish.
and wildlife, ”a report from county staff said.
Calls and victories of the temple
The temple appealed the decision on June 21 and finally had its hearing on Tuesday.
“The appearance of the exterior of the building was something of concern to some members of the commission. But the interior of the building will be fully articulated, fully finished. This will represent a Sikh facility. It will be a place where these families can come to pray, ”architect Michael Dhanens – representing the Sikh group – told supervisors.
Temple members attended the meeting, but did not speak at the audience.
Magsig said it didn’t matter which metal building or where the temple members came from. He expressed his support for the project.