Monroeville council rejects planned expansion for Hindu temple
Monroeville Council rejected a planned expansion for a Hindu temple that had drawn staunch resistance from some nearby residents who claimed the plans threatened public safety.
While council approved a site plan for new construction and a request to revise lot lines on the property of Sri Shirdi Sai Baba Temple on Abers Creek Road, members, in a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, denied two conditional-use applications for the temple to conduct a cut-and-fill operation of about 24,800 cubic yards of earth and a request to build on a steep slope.
Municipal solicitor Bruce Dice said the denial of these two proposals effectively blocked the temple’s plans for expansion, but the temple may resubmit an application.
Residents of the area near the temple have spoken out against the plan at several meetings since August, when the municipal planning commission approved the plan.
Zoning officer Mark Ciufo said during a hearing on the project that more than 11 acres of the 23-acre parcel on which most of the project will take place is on a slope of 25 percent or more.
Some residents have argued the extensive cut-and-fill operation could exacerbate the risk of landslides in the area, which is prone to them.
Engineers for the temple and municipality have disagreed, saying that measures like retaining walls have meant that the project could be completed without increasing risk. The temple’s plans included using a number of retaining walls and monitoring soil erosion during the project.
Council sided with the residents in a motion to deny the plans introduced by councilman Tom Wilson. Nick Gresock and Steve Duncan also voted to deny the applications. Two members — Paul Caliari and Ron Harvey — voted against the denial. Linda Gaydos was not at the meeting for family reasons.
Jim Johns recused himself at the request of Tom Ayoob, the temple’s attorney, who pointed to previous comments Johns made at a previous meeting that were critical of the proposal.
Members of the temple — one of three large Hindu houses of worship in Monroeville and nearby Penn Hills — wanted to build a 13,410-square-foot temple building, a 264-square-foot connecting wing and four gazebos on the property. The temple has applied to PennDOT to construct a roughly 1,400-square-foot driveway onto Northern Pike to improve bus access to the property.
At least six residents who live near the temple attended the meeting to voice their opposition.
“When you have a project of this magnitude, safety should always be the No. 1 concern,” said Eric Roberts, who lives at the top of a slope above the temple property.
“I don’t feel that the applicant or the representatives are concerned about the residents of Bert Drive and Turnpike Gardens.”
Ayoob called some of these residents’ claims “misstatements.” He said the municipality has consulted engineers on the project, and the temple has agreed to comply with their recommendations during the project.
“It’s hard to listen to the numerous misstatements not supported by the record that was created at the hearing,” he said.
Gideon Bradshaw is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-871-2369 or [email protected].