Maharishi, Mayfield Hts. head to court

City sued for denying peace-palace plan

Cleveland Plain Dealer/March 19, 2007
By Maggi Martin

Mayfield Heights -- City officials may want to breathe deep and exhale slowly.

And ponder, perhaps, the merits of heading back to a courtroom again to fight a developer, this one steeped in the ways of peaceful meditation.

The Global Country of World Peace wants to build a peace palace and a private high school on Lander Road in Mayfield Heights. Owned by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the palace would teach transcendental meditation and peaceful enlightenment.

But the pacifists say their Mayfield Heights reception has been anything but peaceful.

The Maharishi people are heading into Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court after filing a lawsuit saying the city is refusing to allow them setback variances that other neighboring corporate offices were allowed. Both sides have to file briefs by March 31.

The city is still reeling from a 14-year court battle over zoning that cost residents $3 million to settle last year. Developers of property near Mayfield Road that later became a Costco warehouse sued the city when it refused to rezone the land, delaying the store for nine years.

Mayor Gregory Costabile said the squabble with the Maharishi's followers is a different issue.

"The city is concerned about safety issues," Costabile said. "They want a setback variance that will put them too close to neighbors and too close to the street. And that becomes a fire and safety issue."

Thomas Murach, director of the Maharishi Enlightenment Center in Cleveland, said that officials in Parma have been very accommodating about the project the group has proposed in that city and that a meeting is planned next week to discuss the Parma facilities. But he said Mayfield Heights has delayed hearings repeatedly since the group first sought approval last September.

Costabile said the decision has been delayed because the variance for an 85-foot setback has not been approved. Planning officials denied the variance, saying the group did not demonstrate an inherent hardship in complying with zoning rules.

The Mayfield Heights palace is planned on a 4.6-acre lot in a corporate park where neighboring office complexes have similar variances, Murach said. The 85-foot setback the group is seeking would allow it to build 140 feet from the street. Murach said if the group follows the city's required 200-foot setback, it would shave a significant chunk off the property, creating an almost worthless building site. The Maharishi's followers also want to place the school 35 feet away from a residence, rather than follow the city's 100-foot restriction.

One resident, Yolanda Geraci, complained the 35-foot clearance was too close to her residential property and would create noise and disruptions during the school day.

Costabile said that while there may have been some variances granted elsewhere, the city could not give them out freely without justification.

The Maharishi's plans call for 3,000 peace palaces, including ones in Parma and Strongsville and others in Cleveland and Columbus.

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