Next Wednesday, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors will hold another day of public hearings over a controversially large construction project planned near Walnut Creek.
Sufism Reoriented, a congregation of about 350 members, is seeking to build a 66,000-square-foot sanctuary in the Saranap area, a quiet residential community just outside Walnut Creek City limits.
Just how big is 66,000-square-feet? Well, space-wise, Hearst Castle and the White House are smaller.
But congregation leaders say the building won’t look as big as it sounds, since two-thirds of it will be underground.
“The building will be only fourteen feet from the ground to the edge of the roof. At its highest point, the central dome it will only be 33½ feet above ground. This is fully within County code. The average height, including the domes, will be only 17½ feet. This is a modest height for a house of worship," their website says.
Still, some neighbors are concerned about the project’s size and design, as well as potential parking and traffic impacts. More than 700 people packed the Lesher Center for the Arts Tuesday for an all-day hearing before the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.
Stuart Flashman, attorney for the Saranap Homeowners Association, urged Sufism Reoriented to scale back the project.
“Perhaps all of it fits on their wish list for an ideal facility,” Flashman said, “But just because you want a Mercedes doesn’t mean you can’t drive in a Ford.”
Flashman and other opponents said the controversy has nothing to do with religion, something the Sufis dispute.
“We have designed our sanctuary to be a physical manifestation of our faith,” said Carol Weyland Conner, the church’s spiritual leader.
The Sufis say the design was planned and vetted with care and found to present no significant environmental impact. They also point out that the new building will be just down the block from the existing one, which has served the congregation for about four decades.
Sufism Reoriented follows the teachings of its founder, Meher Baba, an Indian mystic who established the religious sect in 1952. While active in community schools and service projects, members say they do not proselytize or publicize their activities.