URBANA – After lengthy testimony, the fate of a proposed Hindu temple north of Champaign remains in doubt.
Champaign County's Zoning Board of Appeals voted to extend its meeting time but still had to continue its hearing on the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center to April 26. The hearings began in November.
The special-use permit is sought for land zoned AG-1 on Dewey-Fisher Road (Mattis Avenue extended), just north of the Thor-O-Bred Acres subdivision in Hensley Township.
The proposal is for a 6,500-square-foot temple with a 63-car parking lot, a septic system and leach field just south of the building and a 4,400-square-foot lawn.
But about 80 neighbors represented by Champaign lawyer Kevin Leubchow say they're concerned about water and parking issues should the temple be built.
Luebchow's presentation took up about the first hour of the meeting. He said nearby landowners thought the temple would not meet the definition of a special-use project, starting with whether it was necessary to select the farmland. The burden of proof falls on the petitioner, he argued. He also argued that the building and especially its basement would create run-off, endangering Thor-O-Bred Acres.
"They feel sump pumps are going to be running every day," he said.
Should the temple bus in worshippers, he argued that would not "preserve the character of the rural district." He also questioned whether the architecture of the building, for which there are not yet drawings, would alter the neighborhood's character. And he said some Hindu festivals run for days at a time, and the temple could be open 24 hours a day.
Luebchow asked whether the Hindus had looked at other locations in Champaign County.
There were more than 100 audience members in the hot and crowded Brookens Center room, and only a handful of speakers argued in agreement with Luebchow.
Lynn Stuckey of Champaign asked why the loss of farmland to 29 residences was less of a problem than a loss of farmland for a religious center.
Stuckey also questioned how residents could object to architecture they have yet to see.
Don Hittle of Champaign asked Luebchow if any of the land at Thor-O-Bred estate was used for agriculture, after saying that 85 percent of the land the Hindus wanted to buy was to remain farmland.
He wondered aloud whether the same problems would come up if a Methodist Church were the petitioner.
Dennis Goldenstein, a board member of the ZBA, bristled.
"Did someone say anything about Hindus?" in the hours of testimony, he asked.
But Bob McQueen, who lives in Hensley Township, said concerns about runoff were just.
"What happens to the water?" from the area, he asked, when it strikes an impediment such as the temple and its parking lot.
McQueen also said Hindu worship activity in early morning and early evening would disrupt the peacefulness of the area.
Eric Thorsland, a Mahomet resident who has spoken frequently to county officials about disappearing farmland, said he hated to see development but was ambivalent.
"But this is the least harmful development I've ever seen," he said.