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Row over Hindu complex in N Jersey

india Updated: Aug 15, 2006 11:50 IST

Plans by a Hindu group to set up a $142 million religious and cultural centre in New Jersey have run into rough weather with local residents calling for a scaling down in size of the project.

Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS), a non-profit Indian organisation, is planning to construct 17 buildings and a monument on 20 acres of land near East Windsor, Mercer County.

The proposed complex will include a 71-foot-tall house of worship, an assembly hall, a yoga and meditation centre, a visitor's centre, a lavish garden, food court, restaurant, library, research centres and a 120-foot-tall monument.

But local residents say the complex would only create traffic problems, according to the local Trenton Times website. They have also objected to the height of the structures.

Scott Pohl, president of the Twin Rivers Homeowners Association, a community of about 10,000 residents, said the respective sizes of the buildings don't meet the township's ordinances.

"I would be a lot happier if they were lower," he was quoted as saying.

Some people have also alleged that East Windsor mayor Janice Mironov has been secretly negotiating with the religious organisation, a suggestion she has denied.

Pohl told the Times that Mironov approached him about the plans a year ago when they only included a monument and a garden.

But now, he said, he believes the mayor has been secretly negotiating with BAPS since the plans have drastically changed to include 17 buildings.

Liz Thomas, a spokeswoman for BAPS, said it was too early to decide if the height of the buildings would be reduced.

The mayor said BAPS did approach the township a year ago but that she had not taken a position on the matter and instructed the group to hold a public meeting before filing its official plans.

"Because it is such a significant and unique proposal, I strongly urged them to hold a public meeting," Mironov told the Times.

"If I had taken a position on it I would have just told them to file their plans."

Another local resident, an Indian American, said the complex would bring cultural diversity to the area.

Indian Americans comprise six percent of East Windsor's population of around 25,000.

Controversies, according to the Times report, is nothing new to BAPS. In 2000, the organisation converted a nightclub into a house of worship in North Bergen, Hudson County, New Jersey, after a prolonged court tussle.

It followed this up by recently clinching a zoning clearance for a temple in Paripanny, Morris County, also in New Jersey, in the face of heated opposition from local people concerned about traffic flow, parking spaces and the smell of Indian food.

With one million members across the world, BAPS bases its roots in the Vedas. Its ideals were first revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the late 18th century, according to its website. It was established in 1907.

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