SARANAP -- Construction of the 66,000-square-foot Sufism Reoriented Sanctuary project could begin as soon as mid-February, its project director said this week.
That's good news for the Sufis, but not for some nearby residents who have long battled the project -- to be the Sufis' national headquarters -- as too big and too disruptive, and with unresolved parking and traffic safety questions.
Preliminary grading is complete, and Lashan Cross, Contra Costa County's principal planner, confirmed that a building permit may be approved within the next few weeks.
Wayne Fettig isn't looking forward to that.
"This used to be an established, semirural neighborhood and now I am living by a quarry," said Fettig, Saranap Homeowners Association vice president. "I live two blocks away. Can you imagine what it is like for the poor slobs who live right next to it?"
The plan to cluster a circle of white, dome-shaped concrete structures on seven lots in a residential neighborhood in the unincorporated area between Walnut Creek and Lafayette has been controversial since its unveiling years ago. County planners first approved the project two years ago, over the objections of some neighbors. That approval was appealed to the board of supervisors, who in February 2011 sided with the Sufis.
Ninety-one separate conditions were attached to that approval. Sufism project director Robert Carpenter believes those conditions have been met as part of building plans submitted in mid-2012.
"There is no opposition of any consequence now. Most of the opposition has dissipated," Carpenter said this past week. "Some (area residents) have been very supportive."
Others haven't been. Patricia R. Perry, a retired government planner and Saranap resident, is one who contends county planners have favored the project's developers over homeowners on issues such as setbacks and traffic safety.
Supervisor Candace Andersen said supervisors worked hard on their decisions regarding the Sufis' facility: "You were balancing the right of the church against the rights of the neighborhood."
Andersen got involved when the county Public Works Department denied Perry the opportunity to see the plans before a final approval. "I asked them, 'Please give whatever access you are able to,'" Andersen aid.
The Sufism Reoriented church incorporated in 2003, and approximately 240 of a reported 350 Sufism Reoriented members have moved into the Saranap area over the past 20 years. Standard parking requirements for the project were reduced, based on the premise that many church members could walk to the site.
Perry claims the developer's solution to achieve the required 54 off-site parking places may not be legal. The Meher School, a Sufism Reoriented affiliate with its campus within Lafayette's borders four blocks west of the sanctuary project, is set to provide those parking spaces on land leased from the Lafayette School District.
Meher Schools has maintained the school district's long-standing practice of allowing The Sun Valley Pool and Lafayette Moraga Youth Association soccer programs to use the property parking area, as well.
That doesn't mollify Perry, who believes The Meher Schools are leasing school district property to Sufism Reoriented in perpetuity.
"I am not trying to stop the project; a decision has been made," Perry said. "I just want them to get it right,"
In a letter to Sufism Reoriented, Lafayette School District Superintendent Fred Brill explained that the terms of their lease do not allow for assignment, subletting or third-party agreements for use of the property without prior written consent from the district. The district did give such approval for continued use of the property for church parking based on past use levels at its old meeting place; that number, Perry said, is a maximum of 29 spaces, not the required 54.
Cross said that if the Sufis' parking needs exceed capacity, the group must provide another site within two miles. County officials will follow up within a year of the sanctuary's opening to see whether traffic and parking measures are working out. If not, the Sufis could be required to provide an additional site.
Said Supervisor Andersen, "The parking requirement is an integral part of the approval and under no circumstance would this parking requirement be waived."