Contra Costa County Approves Controversial Sufi Mega Church

Neighbors argued the scale of the project was too large for the small community.

Thursday, Mar 1, 2012  |  Updated 9:52 AM PDT
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Contra Costa County Approves Controversial Sufi Mega Church

An artist rendering of what the building would look like once completed.

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The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Wednesday to approve a land use permit for a controversial three-acre Sufi sanctuary in a quiet neighborhood in unincorporated Walnut Creek.

The decision to uphold a recent county planning commission vote approving the local Sufi congregation's mega-church project and deny an appeal from a neighborhood homeowner group came a week after a marathon board of supervisors' meeting on the subject that drew some 700 area residents.
     
Plans for the sprawling $20-million, 66,000-square-foot facility on Boulevard Way and Kinney Drive include a worship hall, library, performance space, cafi and bookstore housed in a series of domed buildings surrounded by a garden-like space.

Sufism Reoriented follows the teachings of Indian mystic Meher Baba, who founded the spiritual group in 1952.

Opponents of the project have said that their objections to the new religious center have nothing to do with their acceptance of Sufism, but church leaders say the new space, much of which will be built underground, is essential for Sufism Reoriented.

Congregants now meet in a smaller building and classrooms at a nearby elementary school located less than a mile from the new project site, which church members say just isn't enough space.

Supervisor Karen Mitchoff noted Wednesday that, "One of the things I did not hear was that there were current traffic impacts, and yet we are dealing with the same number of people," she said.

Mitchoff commended the congregants' pledge to continue using alternative forms of transportation to get to church, such as walking and ride sharing.

But many neighborhood residents who addressed the board Wednesday were more skeptical, and worried that future church members might not adhere to the same traffic plan.

Before Wednesday's vote, the board listened to nearly four hours of similar testimony from dozens of neighborhood residents and representatives of the "Sufism Reoriented" project.

Their comments about the project's large scale, noise and traffic effects -- plus other concerns voiced by more than 120 community members during last week's hearing -- influenced a new list of conditions for approval of the project.
 

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