Plans for a new Sikh temple near the busy intersection of Morrisville-Carpenter Road and Town Hall Drive have come up against a town development ordinance that restricts the size of worship buildings.
Morrisville distinguishes between “neighborhood” and “community” places of worship; buildings zoned in neighborhood areas are limited to 8,000 square feet. These limits were designed to restrict the traffic impacts of larger facilities to thoroughfares and highways instead of smaller, local roads.
In February 2015, representatives from Triangle Sikh Gurudwara first met with town officials and came back that May with a design plan for a 20,000-square-foot temple, well in excess of the parcel’s 8,000-square-foot limit. TSG and town staff have been working since then to resolve that issue as well as others related to the exterior design of the temple, which would be situated in the town’s Historic Crossroads Village District.
The Town Council discussed the situation at a work session during the March 22 meeting and debated whether to consider reducing or modifying the requirements listed in the town’s design ordinances.
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One option presented by town staff recommended that TSG purchase a larger, adjacent lot off of Morrisville-Carpenter Road. Buying that lot, which has been owned but remained undeveloped by the Triangle Transit Authority for years, would absolve TSG of the restraints placed on its current parcel, which is currently bounded by Franklin Upchurch Sr. Street and Page Street – two short, local roads. Yet another option suggested a full revision of the ordinance to allow larger buildings on local roads.
Councilwomen Liz Johnson and Vicki Scroggins-Johnson spoke in favor of enforcing whatever the code required of TSG and the land it chooses to build on.
“It’s important to reflect on what we’ve required from folks in the past,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we’ve reduced or modified those requirements, and we’ve asked them to address their transportation issues. For us to reduce or modify, we start going down a slippery slope.”
Mayor Mark Stohlman said TSG owns two tracts of land near the intersection on which it could build two 8,000-foot facilities without applying for a variance. But Stohlman said it seems likely TSG will request a variance to build a 12,000-square-foot main building on one tract and a 4,000-square-foot outbuilding on the other. That’s because most Sikh temples generally require a two-story structure, with space for social events and gatherings on the first floor and space for worship on the second.
Stohlman said the town has chosen to entertain the possibility of a variance so both sides can be better aware of the other’s needs. The Town Council, for example, might request a traffic impact analysis that could compel TSG to pay for road improvements, such as turn lanes and secondary access points, near the site. Town staff recommended compromise, too, with respect to the exterior design of the temple, which would require changes to the design ordinance to provide leeway for small deviations from the historic district’s current requirements.
“There’s always that element of compromise,” Stohlman said. “You get a better result that way because right now they can build (two 8,000-square-foot buildings) without asking anyone anything.”
Morrisville resident Lee Langston, a general contractor who lives less than a mile from the site, said he has two concerns about the proposal. First, he said, is his feeling that the public hadn’t been adequately involved in the discussion of a major project near a busy intersection in the 14 months since TSG first approached the town. Second, he said, is traffic.
“Even on weekends it backs up well past that intersection,” Langston said. “This is sort of a pinch point, and there’d be a large increase in cars in a short period of time. I don’t think in this specific case it would be a good idea to put any kind of worship facility there.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan