The Oyster Bay Town Board has suspended an approved site plan for a Sikh temple in Plainview in a move that drew praise from neighbors and upset the congregation.
As it suspended the site plan, board members also took an unusual step and voted to remove the site plan review process from the town planning department and give it to themselves.
The need for additional parking at the unfinished temple is at the heart of the controversy that congregants say will further delay a $3 million project.
The Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center has been on Old Country Road for almost three decades. The temple’s property extends into residential streets where homeowners say traffic and parking issues have worsened.
Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia spearheaded the move to give the board oversight powers over the site plan. She recommended that Supervisor John Venditto issue an executive order to take over the site-plan process, which was then approved with a 7-0 vote.
Alesia said residents told her they were concerned that the departure last month of planning and development Commissioner Frederick Ippolito would have an impact on the town’s review. She said residents feared their concerns about the temple “might fall through the cracks.”
Ippolito stepped down after pleading guilty to federal income tax evasion charges.
Construction on a new $3 million temple on the site of the old one began in 2014 but was halted last July on the grounds that it didn’t comply with an off-street parking plan.
Manny Sethi, a real estate developer who said he was speaking on behalf of the temple and who has helped the congregation with the town review process, said the temple and its architect spent six months working with Ippolito and his staff on a parking plan that the commissioner verbally approved last month.
“The temple is completely confused and baffled about what happened on Tuesday,” Sethi said of the town board’s action.
Sethi said the temple plans to hire a lawyer to review its legal options.
The board’s rationale at the meeting for taking over the site-plan oversight was that the temple had not purchased a particular property on Old Country Road for additional parking.
But Sethi said the site plan had been approved by the planning department with the location of the parking unresolved and that, although there had been discussion of purchasing a particular property, it was never agreed upon.
“It was never contingent on that; we could get parking anywhere,” he said.
For her part, Alesia said she did not know that Ippolito had approved a new site plan. That plan, dated Jan. 22, added on-site parking at the temple on land that had been left open. The additional parking could only be accessed from Old Country Road, and not via an adjacent residential street. The plan also called for fencing and trees around the temple to limit its visual impact on nearby homes.
Mira Lim, 46, is a stay-at-home mother who lives on Hope Court, the same street where two temple-owned houses are located. The houses are part of the temple site and services are being held there while the new temple is under construction.
She said temple parking takes over her street and spills out onto other streets. “They just do not have the amount of parking that’s necessary for the huge congregation,” Lim said.
Lim, who along with several other neighbors spoke at last week’s board meeting, said that even with modifications to the site plan, she feared the temple would hurt her property value.
Alesia said a public hearing on the site plan has yet to be announced.