After crafting a series of conditions on parking, construction noise and other neighborhood concerns, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 Wednesday afternoon to approve a large, white domed sanctuary for the Sufism Reoriented congregation in Saranap.
After the vote, board Chairwoman Mary Piepho thanked the audience, hundreds of people at the Hofmann Theater in the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, for their demeanor and patience in the hearing process. Most in the crowd — largely Sufi congregation members proudly wearing oversized lapel buttons decorated with green ribbon — applauded politely and then extended it into a standing ovation.
"I'm as happy as I could be," said Bob Carpenter, project coordinator for the 350-member Sufi congregation, reflecting on four years of efforts to win approval. The conditions were fine, Carpenter said: "They were wise to think about them and put them in."
Carpenter said, "We had addressed the concerns. The staff knew that and ultimately the board knew that … I always felt the truth would prevail." The Sufis had met all codes and requirements, and sought no variances from the county, Carpenter said.
The Sufi congregation's current sanctuary is a nondescript gray building, a former nightclub. It is a few hundred feet away from the new site on Boulevard Way in Saranap, an unincorporated neighborhood between Walnut Creek and Lafayette. The 66,000-square-foot sanctuary (slightly larger than the White House in Washington), with two-thirds of its area underground, has multiple domes with a central dome for a worship area. The design includes a library, meeting room, bookstore and archive room.
The Board of Supervisors was hearing appeals by Saranap neighbors to the sanctuary approval from the county Planning Commission last fall.
Wednesday's meeting started with county staff reports on issues supervisors had asked questions about in the Feb. 21 all-day public hearing, which featured 110 speakers pro and con, most of them Saranap residents. Wednesday's action took a little more than a half-day. In the early afternoon, supervisors and staff parsed the wording of conditions to add to the project approval.
At the urging of Supervisor John Gioia, language was added that the Traffic Demand Management program, a county initiative that the Sufi congregation has already implemented to lessen auto use, would include minimizing "adverse impacts of availability of parking spaces in public streets in the neighborhood and promote respectful parking practices by congregation members and guests." Saranap is a hybrid transition neighborhood, from urban to semi-rural, known for its narrow streets. "Two cars cannot pass at the same time," said Warren Road resident Caroline Campbell, addressing the board. "It's 19 feet wide."
In response to concerns of neighbors, the county added provisions for a report every six months by the Sufi congregation on parking issues.
The county also added condition language to minimize the number of dump trucks and concrete trucks on the construction site at one time.
The county directed the congregation to meet with a child care provider adjacent to the site, at the beginning of the construction period, to address impacts to the day care business. The congregation will have a designated person to talk to neighbors who have complaints during the construction process.
Another county condition requires the congregation to give a report on the neighborhood impact of the lighting from the domed building.