In Newtown, Buddhist Society Appeals ZEO's Order

By Audrey Grasso, Zwire, June 4, 2008

NEWTOWN, CT (USA) -- The Buddhist Society of Connecticut is appealing a cease and desist order issued two months ago by Zoning Enforcement Officer Gary Frenette requiring that the society cease holding functions on property it owns on Boggs Hill Road.

The Buddhist Society had been holding festivals and services without a permit. Residents complained about the amount of traffic, the crowds of people and expressed concerns about sewage disposal at the site.

Residents noted times, number of people in attendance and photos of the parking in gatherings this year. Residents reported that on March 22 there were 23 vehicles on the property and on April 13, when residents complained again, they reported 60 vehicles.

Mr. Frenette said the society wants the cease and desist overturned.

"They think I am wrong and they believe they shouldn't have been cited," Mr. Frenette said.

He added that the group had 30 days to appeal the cease and desist order, issued April 16, and they did so.

The appeal most likely will be heard this summer.

The Buddhist Society of Connecticut purchased 10 acres of land on Boggs Hill Road in 1999 to hold religious services and gatherings. The lot also had a house on the property, in which some monks live.

Almost a decade ago the Planning and Zoning Commission issued a special zoning permit to allow the Buddhists to worship on the land.

The society then drew up plans for a temple that upset neighbors in that residential area of town. The group proposed a 7,600 square foot temple, along with about 140 parking spaces.

Many residents did not like the style of the building in the residential area and the height of the proposed building did not meet zoning requirements.

Residents also objected to the crowds of people who would be on the roads and on the property for day-long festivals and services and were concerned about sewage disposal on the site.

The commission denied the group's application.

The Buddhist Society appealed the denial and the denial was upheld in Danbury Superior Court. The appeal was brought before the State Supreme Court earlier this year and the denial was upheld.

The Supreme Court agreed with the Planning and Zoning Commission denial, citing the neighborhood setting, septic system, parking and other factors that forbade the construction of a temple and meeting hall.

"It took them eight and one-half to nine years to have their case heard by the Connecticut Supreme Court," Mr. Frenette said.

An appeal before the Newtown Zoning Board of Appeals should, Mr. Frenette said, take place in July. There will be a public hearing.