Newtown Buddhist temple: Residents Tell Concerns to ZBA at Hearing on Appeal of Order

By Audrey Grasso, Zwire, July 23,2008

NEWTOWN, CT (USA) -- About 50 people, many of whom live on Boggs Hill Road, crowded the meeting room of the Kendro building Wednesday, July 16, for a Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing on an application from the Cambodian Buddhist Society of Connecticut to correct "an alleged error" by Zoning Enforcement Officer Gary Frenette.

Mr. Frenette issued a hand-delivered, cease and desist order to the society on April 16. The society has appealed the cease and desist order to the ZBA.

The Buddhist Society of Connecticut purchased 10 acres of land on Boggs Hill Road to hold religious services and gatherings. There was 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 Buddhist Society to conduct worship services on the property.

The society then drew up plans for a temple that were not well received by neighbors in that residential area of town. The group proposed a 7,600 square-foot temple, 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 were concerned that crowds would be on the roads and on the property for day-long festivals and services. They also were concerned about sewage disposal on the site.

The Planning and Zoning Commission denied the application.

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

The State Supreme Court noted that after reviewing the record, "the
commission's concerns were motivated not by religious bigotry but by neutral considerations that it would apply equally to any proposed use of the property."

The court concluded the commission's decision was supported by substantial evidence.

The Buddhist Society has continued to have festivals and services without a permit. Residents say the gatherings have caused an inordinate amount of traffic and have appeared in land use offices complaining.

Some residents took photos of recent gatherings and went to the planning and zoning office to complain in person.

In a letter to Town Attorney Robert Fuller, 11 residents noted there was a gathering March 22, with 23 cars "parked all over the lawn at 145 Boggs Hill Road."

A gathering began at 8:30 a.m. April 13, that continued throughout the day.

Residents witnessed "at least 60-plus cars at the site," according to the letter.

Residents report the gatherings have been disturbing and have resented dangerous parking and traffic problems. Added to that was a complaint of the smell of sewage.

"It is apparent that the Buddhists seem to be ignoring the cease and desist order on the property, even though during recent court hearings they specifically stated that they were renting a hall to hold festivals," the letter said.

Zoning Enforcement Officer Gary Frenette issued the cease and desist order to the society on April 16.

"If they have any more services or gatherings at the site, we will have to seek an injunction that will prevent the group from having any more services," Mr. Frenette said.

Mr. Frenette emphasized in his letter that "the monks may continue to reside there, as they have in the past."

The Buddhist Society appealed the cease and desist to the ZBA.

Following last week's meeting, Mr. Frenette said the Zoning Board of Appeals has up to 65 days to make a decision on the appeal.

"I'm sure the board [ZBA] will make a cautious decision," he said.

If the ZBA denies the appeal, the Buddhist Society may appeal to Danbury Superior Court.