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Plainview Sikh congregation sues Oyster Bay over construction

The Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center at 1065

The Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center at 1065 Old Country Rd. in Plainview on Feb. 4, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

A Plainview Sikh congregation filed a federal lawsuit against Oyster Bay on Wednesday alleging that its civil rights were violated when the town board halted construction on its temple in February.

The civil suit, filed in U.S. Eastern District Court, alleges that the town government imposed “burdensome, discriminatory, and unreasonable land use regulations” when it stopped the Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center from finishing the project.

“We feel that it’s in the best interest of the town to settle this case and let them complete the temple and let them continue to worship,” said the congregation’s attorney Paul Savad of Nanuet-based Savad Churgin, LLP.

Neighbors of the temple on Old Country Road have complained that congregants’ cars have clogged their residential streets.

Savad said the board had acted to satisfy political ends and in the process violated the congregation’s religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

“It’s small government just acting on a whim and burdening a religious organization,” said attorney Donna Sobel, who also is working on the case with Savad.

Town spokeswoman Marta Kane said in a statement that the town considers the congregation a “valued neighbor” and that officials wish for an amicable resolution.

“This is not a matter of religion,” Kane said. “The town’s highest priority is insuring that there is adequate parking and that all relevant environmental reviews are followed so as to not disturb the surrounding community’s peaceful enjoyment of their neighborhood.”

In court papers the plaintiffs argued that an environmental review now, after they demolished their old temple on the site and nearly finished their new $3 million temple under an approved site plan, would be burdensome.

Last year the congregation was issued a stop work order and, after negotiations with former Planning and Development commissioner Frederick Ippolito, came up with a new parking plan and resumed work in January.

Ippolito was forced to step down that month after pleading guilty to felony tax evasion.

On Feb. 2, Town Supervisor John Venditto issued and the town board approved an executive order that suspended the approved site plan and took oversight away from the town’s Planning and Development Department and gave oversight authority to the board to address parking issues.

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