2009-04-23 / Local & State

Pa. Township Sued Over Proposed Hindu Temple

CHESTER SPRINGS, Pa. (AP) - A group seeking to build a Hindu temple has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that a suburban Philadelphia township's zoning and land development ordinances are infringing on the group's constitutional rights.

"It's an unfortunate circumstance,'' said attorney Richard Lipow, representing Adhi Parasakthi Charitable, Medical, Educational and Cultural Society (ACMEC) of North America in the suit filed Friday against West Pikeland Township. The society says township ordinances violate the group's religious, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly rights.

The group last year sought conditional use approval for a 26,000-square-foot temple and a 9,000-square-foot auxiliary support building on a 24.5-acre site along Route 401. Township supervisors last month approved religious use of the property but for a temple no larger than 5,000 square feet, and included 18 conditions with 23 further specifications.

Chairman Bob Shemonsky said in March that members wanted to be consistent with previous board decisions. The board said in its order that it was trying to accommodate the society while mitigating adverse effects on the surrounding community.

Lipow said the temple size is driven not by the size of the congregation but by religious considerations.

"Certain gods need distance from each other,'' he said.

Lipow also said the society had offered to try to work out a settlement but supervisors had ignored them.

"I think the board felt a lot of pressure from the neighbors and the people who elected them,'' he said, citing people at the hearing who voiced concerns about a "mosque'' and a possible influx of Hindus.

Township solicitor Guy Donatelli declined comment Friday, saying he had not yet reviewed the lawsuit.

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