EAST MANATEE -- A spiritual community in an east Manatee neighborhood has convinced a county hearing officer to reverse an earlier decision and will be allowed to build a worship center on property on 18th Avenue East, it was announced Wednesday.
Opponents to the project, which include many of the temple's neighbors, have until July 11 to present enough evidence to reopen the case.
The Ming Deh Development Society, a nonprofit corporation operating a Daoist congregation named Shien Deh Temple, applied for a special use permit to build a two-story, 9,750-square-foot building to accommodate a sanctuary and meditation rooms on their 2.39-acre lot at 6916 18th Ave. E., east of Morgan Johnson Road.
The congregation has been holding services inside a 4,000-square-foot home already on the property for a decade, said the group's lawyer, Robert Lincoln.
"We're very pleased with the result," Lincoln told the Herald Wednesday. "We think the hearing officer came to the right decision."
Temple spokeswoman Lee Daly was also pleased after being told of the pending decision.
"We're very happy to hear that," she said.
In his 13-page notice of intent, hearing officer Jack Hawkins said although the worship center wasn't entirely consistent with the surrounding neighborhood, it was not disruptive enough to deny the permit.
"Based on the evidence submitted, it appears the neighborhood has been nearly or completely developed into a residential neighborhood with single-family homes," Hawkins reported. "Thus it does not appear the development would necessarily have a negative impact on the development and improvement of surrounding properties."
Hawkins set conditions for the permit.
The maximum capacity of the worship center will be 52 seats. The temple must provide 17 parking spaces on the property, including three paved. Hawkins also stipulated at least 25 canopy trees be planted on the north end of the property to eventually help shield the worship center from the street.
A drainage easement and plans to handle stormwater runoff must also be included in the final site plan, Hawkins wrote.
Neighbors have complained the building would be larger that any other structure in the neighborhood. They also expressed concern at two hearings on the permit, saying increased street traffic would create hazards for children and the large structure would exacerbate flooding in the area, which is in an flood zone.
Hawkins conceded traffic in the neighborhood would increase.
"The use of a facility and development with gatherings of up to 53 members meeting at a time, at least five times per month, is not a use which is consistent with the character of the immediate surrounding neighborhood. However, there was no evidence that the additional traffic would be adverse, per se, to the public interest," Hawkins wrote.
Shirley Paquin, who lives near the temple property, signed a petition opposing the permit. She said she was not in opposition to people worshipping, but the scope of the project concerned her.
"We can't understand why they need a two-story building," she said. "It's enormous."
George and Jackie Lusby have lived in the neighborhood 15 years, about 1,000 feet from where the temple would stand. They said their main concern is the effect the building would have on flooding.
"He [Hawkins} ought to come out here and see the standing water we have right now," Jackie Lusby said Wednesday.
The Lusbys said concerned neighbors would likely get together to see what can be done.
"We're not happy about it. But we don't know what we'll do," Jackie Lusby said.
Daly said the temple members want to be good neighbors.
"We've discussed concerns with the congregation, asking them to drive safely and keep their speed down," she said. "We want to address the issues they're raising."
According to a Dun and Bradstreet search entered into evidence at the special permit hearing in April, the Ming Deh Development Society Corp. lists three employees and annual income of $270,000.
Kathleen Bailey, listed as chairman and CFO, lives on the 18th Avenue East property, according to Daly; Cynthia Lam is listed as vice president; and Johnny Mohr is the corporation's CEO.
Jim DeLa, East Manatee editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JimDeLaBH.