Long Island's Sikh community has a new home in Plainview after five years of starts and stalls.
The revamped Guru Gobind Sikh Center on Old Country Road opened this past summer after years of disputes with the Town of Oyster Bay and residents.
“I’m always surprised with how beautiful it is,” temple president Surinder Chawla said as he looked at the congregation kneeling together in prayer on Friday. “At the end, I thank God for it.”
The new temple, on the location of a smaller one, is three floors tall with a main hall that can accommodate the congregation’s 300 families. A gilded altar stands at the front of the temple where the head priest is stationed and where the faith’s holy book rests. The basement level includes a cafeteria where big pots of lentils and curry simmer, to be served to congregants and anyone else in the community for free.
The original temple was converted from an old church and was the first of three Sikh temples on Long Island.
The $3 million project started in 2014 and was expected to be finished the following year. The congregation, which had grown from about 50 families when it first opened in 1987, needed more space, Chawla said.
About a year later, town officials halted construction, saying the temple didn’t comply with an off-street parking plan. Residents had complained cars were clogging nearby Hope Court, a small street that includes temple property.
In June 2016, the congregation filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. Eastern District Court against Oyster Bay alleging their religious freedom guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 had been violated, Chawla said.
Construction resumed after the town board voted to settle the lawsuit later that year. Under a consent order, the temple agreed to add landscaping, lower lights to reduce its visual impact and reduce the number of parking spots to 61 spaces.
“It was a very difficult fight, but we never gave it up,” Chawla said.
For the past five years, the faithful have attended Long Island’s two other Sikh temples in Hicksville and Glen Cove or gone to services at a small temple property nearby.
The temple reopened in July, but residents remain unhappy about the parking situation and the temple’s bright lights, said a Hope Court resident who did not want to be identified.
The resident said there's still not enough parking to accommodate all the worshippers and, during services, cars crowd residential streets.
Temple trustee Jasbir Arneja said they are committed to working with their neighbors and the town, and have hired an attendant to direct traffic away from Hope Court during services.
Sumeet Anand, 43, has attended the Plainview temple since she moved to Dix Hills in 2004 and sees it as the center of cultural life for the Sikh community in the region. Now that it’s reopened, she said it feels like “we’ve gotten our lives back.”
“It signifies more than just a building for us,” Anand said. “It means that we together can overcome all the hurdles that came our way and have a beautiful place to pray and bond with the community.”
Guru Gobind Sikh Center Timeline
1987: The Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center opens in Plainview.
June 2011: The temple was closed by the Oyster Bay Town officials for alleged code violations.
August 2014: Construction begins on a new temple large enough to house their growing congregation.
February 2016: Town board halted construction on the $3 million temple.
June 2016: The congregation filed a federal lawsuit against Oyster Bay alleging its civil rights were violated when the board halted construction.
November 2016: Construction was allowed to resume after the Oyster Bay Town Board voted to settle the federal lawsuit.
July 2018: Construction is completed and the temple reopens.