Escondido residents still oppose Hare Krishna temple

San Diego Union Tribune, February 11, 2000

ESCONDIDO -- A proposed Hare Krishna temple hit another bump in the road yesterday at a hearing before the city's Design Review Board, the first step in the approval process.

Plans for a traditional Hindu temple, its domes and spires hidden in the hills of a semirural north Escondido neighborhood, faced stiff opposition from residents at a meeting in November -- and again yesterday before the design board.

Members of the advisory panel lingered on several objections from residents -- including the appropriateness of the project, traffic, the rural character of the neighborhood and landscaping -- but did not make a decision.

Board members said they wanted more information. The project likely will return to the board next month.

Members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness of San Diego have proposed building an ornate, 30,000-square-foot complex featuring two Hindu-style temples; a 6,400-square-foot, two-story dormitory for monks and nuns; and four single-family homes on a 24-acre parcel.

The design board asked Krishna society officials to present at the next meeting either a three-dimensional model of the project or a video simulation of what it would look like from various points in the neighborhood. Karen Belcher, who lives on Stone Valley Place, said she was concerned about the traffic impact, what the project would look like from her home and the proposed height of the temple and its spires. Robert Morrill, director of the society, said the architects have designed the complex so it would be set back from the road, screened with trees along the perimeter and angled so it would not block residents' views of a 200-foot-high hill nearby. The 299-space parking lot would be tiered to reduce noise and headlight glare to the surrounding homes.

Andrea Dowd, also of Stone Valley Place, said she hoped the city's boards and commissions would consider the appropriateness of such a temple in a semirural neighborhood. She said she believed it was more suited to a commercial zone.

The site, just east of Rincon Avenue and Creek Hollow Place, is in a residential zone, which allows churches with conditional-use permits. The Elks Lodge is proposing a building across from the proposed temple, and developer New Urban West is proposing a 225-unit gated community farther west on Rincon Avenue.

Design Review Board members debated the possible clash between the ornate architecture of the temple and the nearby neighborhood. "At this stage, I'm not convinced this is the right location," said board member James Crone.

One board member, Lucy Berk, said she supported the proposal, citing Escondido as a place known historically for its supportive attitude toward various religious groups and churches. She said the proposed site was an appropriate place for a Hare Krishna temple.

"While many of the neighbors' concerns are legitimate, people spend thousands to go to the Orient to see temples," Berk said. "This will add uniqueness to that end of the community."

The city's reputation for religious tolerance is one of the reasons the Hare Krishnas were attracted to Escondido, members said. Last year, the City Council approved a traditional, Byzantine-style temple, with large gold domes, for the Sikh Society of San Diego. It is proposed for a parcel at West Valley Parkway and Avenida del Diablo in west Escondido.

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