Buddhist Temple Appeal Progressing In Court

By Andrew Gorosko, The Newtown Bee, June 23, 2005

Newtown, Conneticut (USA) -- Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) members learned June 16 that a long-running court battle over the agency's February 2003 rejection of a proposed Buddhist temple and meeting hall at 145 Boggs Hill Road is progressing at Danbury Superior Court.

P&Z Chairman William O'Neil told panel members that Community Development Director Elizabeth Stocker spent about three hours on the witness stand in court that week, testifying for the town in the court appeal. Witnesses for the applicant also testified, Mr O'Neil said.

In March 2003, citing religious freedom, as protected by state and federal law, the Cambodian Buddhist Society of Connecticut, Inc, filed an administrative appeal in court in seeking to overturn the P&Z's rejection of the society's controversial proposal to build a 7,600-square-foot Buddhist temple/meeting hall. Through the appeal, the society seeks to have a judge order the P&Z to approve the temple/meeting hall application and cover the society's legal costs.

In February 2003, the P&Z had unanimously rejected the Buddhist society's proposal to build a temple/meeting hall at the society's ten-acre property. In turning down the application in a 5-to-0 vote, P&Z members said the Buddhists' envisioned use of the property, involving increased traffic and noise, would be "far too intense for this particular site." The Buddhist society now has a monastery at the property.

The temple/meeting hall proposal drew heavy opposition from nearby property owners, who listed traffic and noise among their main complaints about the development application.

Besides the Buddhist society, Pong Me of Bristol, who is the society's president, is listed as a plaintiff in the court case. The P&Z is the only defendant named in the case.

Listed as intervenors in the case are nearby residents Richard and Jeanette Coburn, William Leibold, Pamela Ashbahian, Janis and Stuart Opdahl, and Anthony and Christina Russo. The intervenors oppose the temple application.

In February 2004, a judge dismissed an administrative appeal brought by five Boggs Hill Road area residents against the Conservation Commission, challenging the commission's November 2002 issuance of a wetlands permit to the Buddhist society for temple/meeting hall construction.

The plaintiffs in that appeal were Richard and Jeanette Coburn, William Leibold, Pam Ashbahian, and Janis Opdahl.

At the June 16 P&Z session, P&Z members said they would be willing to help the Buddhist society find a "suitable location" for a temple/meeting hall in Newtown. P&Z members have maintained that the Boggs Hill Road neighborhood is not a suitable place for such a facility.

Mr O'Neil said that legal briefs summarizing the town's and the Buddhist society's legal arguments would be filed with a judge in July, after which a decision would be rendered in the case.