The Council voted July 6 to block the 3,700-square-foot facility, saying it didn’t fit the city’s “western aesthetic” and presented drainage and parking problems. But Project Director Manu Patolia called the decision blatant cultural discrimination, and said Thursday, Aug. 4, that he may pursue legal action against the city.
“This is clearly, clearly, violating some of our fundamental rights,” Patolia said. “We had some hope from (Okoro’s) proposal, but not anymore. We’re quiet, peace-loving people. Those who live quiet and peacefully, they have no rights. When you get loud, then the city will listen.”
One of the main reasons Okoro suggested the committee was to dispel what he called misunderstanding about why the project on a 4-acre Norconian Drive parcel was denied. He said planning commissioners and city council members’ issues are solely with the size of the multipurpose hall, adequate parking and drainage.
Norco City Attorney John Harper said revised building plans presented to the council July 6 were “essentially brand new engineered plans” that should have first been reviewed by the planning commission.
“Council isn’t in a position to review those,” Harper said. “Council was kind of blindsided.”
The revised plans show an earth-toned building with stone pillars and a single dome that falls beneath the city’s height allowance. Public Works Director Chad Blais previously said developers submitted adequate preliminary drainage plans.
Patolia said the house of worship could potentially exceed its 107-parking space limitation a couple of days out of the year, including the annual Patotsav celebration of the faith. To resolve that issue, Patolia said during a planning commission meeting he’d suggested renting spaces from nearby businesses.
The proposed committee of two council members and two planning commissioners would have provided recommendations for the project to meet city requirements. Instead, Okoro said leaders of Swaminarayan Gurukul, a Hindu denomination, can meet with city employees at their leisure. They will have to wait at least a year before reapplying for a building permit.
“My gut reaction was that we should form an ad-hoc, that was just my opinion, but I completely understand council’s viewpoint,” Okoro said, adding that forming a committee could have set a bad precedent.
“This (opportunity) was not provided to other folks who’ve had their projects denied in the past.”
Patolia said members of his faith organization have been meeting in area homes for the past two years, and the cramped quarters are wearing on the congregation.
“We have to continue our heritage, our culture,” Patolia said. “Christians go to church, Muslims go to their mosque, we need a place to go.”