Gotha residents against proposed temple

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir wants to relocate its Hindu temple to West Orange.

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An 800-seat, 45,000-square-foot religious institution is being proposed in the Gotha Rural Settlement, and area residents turned out at a community meeting to hear information about the project. All who spoke were against such a large facility being built in their neighborhood.

Orange County case planner Nick Balevich led the meeting June 12 at Gotha Middle School. Nathan Milch is the applicant representing BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, the temple that wants to relocate from its current home on Oak Ridge Road after 50 years to 2198 Hempel Ave.

Milch is requesting a special exception in the A-1 Citrus Rural zoning district to allow for the construction of the religious institution on about 8.37 acres of vacant agricultural land on the west side of Hempel, east of State Road 408 and north of Florida’s Turnpike. Access would be from Hempel.

Before residents participated in a Q&A, Balevich shared Orange County staff findings and attorney Jim Willard, representing the applicant, also presented information.

County staff issued the following findings and requirements: An assembly place with 800 fixed seats with 15 employees equates to one parking space per three fixed seats, plus one space per employee, so 282 spaces are required. The applicant is requesting 312 spaces, including 12 handicap spaces.

The hours of operation would be 4 to 8 p.m. daily for religious worship with no school activities or planned outdoor events.

The Orange County Planning Division reviewed the application and found the proposed temple is consistent with the county’s Future Land-Use policy.

The county’s Transportation Planning Division reported a trip generation analysis was conducted, and based on the weekday operations of the temple, 22 trips are anticipated. There would be few visitors during the weekday, staff reported; on Saturdays, most visitors would arrive in the evening.

An intersection operational analysis concluded the intersection of Hempel and Lake Hugh Drive/project driveway would operate with sufficient capacity and no more than two vehicles would queue up at the intersection. Staff concluded left-turn and right-turn lanes were not warranted but a left-turn lane was recommended at the driveway intersection at cost to the applicant.

Willard said the applicant agreed to put in a left-turn lane so vehicles going north on Hempel can turn in without stopping traffic.

According to Willard, most of the congregation lives in West Orange County.

“This would be a modern and well-designed interior to accommodate their activities and more convenient to the congregation,” he said.

The proposed project includes a two-story building with meeting space, classrooms and a gymnasium set back more than 500 feet from Hempel. The building would be 30 feet in height with a 12-foot steeple. Willard said the temple would mostly be hidden from the road and added extensive landscaping is proposed.

Willard said the 312-space parking lot would be full only during the temple’s five major festivals each year.

“Other than that, the weekly services are on Saturdays and people would arrive middle to late afternoon and depart by 8 o’clock,” Willard said.

The proposal does not include a school or daycare on the property; the classrooms would be used strictly by the temple. The applicant said the facility would not be rented out.

Residents asked a barrage of questions and shared their opinion on the project.

Theresa Schretzmann-Myers, who serves on the board of the Gotha Rural Settlement Association, said stormwater mitigation is her biggest concern. She reminded officials of Orange County’s studies in 2009 and 2018.

“We are in a percolation closed basin,” she said. “We are already flooding on Lake Fischer, Lake Nally, Lake Mills, Lake Gotha; all the graveyards along Morton Jones (Road) are being flooded by water coming off (Florida’s) Turnpike. Three of our neighbors’ houses are under water.

“This will add more water,” Schretzmann-Myers said. “It is totally out of scale for the historic Gotha Rural Settlement. We’ve got 45,000 square feet plus about 300 parking spaces. That water has to go down, it percolates, and it rises up into the basin. Those studies … tell us, ‘Do not build these large, high-density buildings in Gotha because it adds to our flooding issues.’”

Several residents asked how the temple would benefit the Gotha community. Others questioned the size of the project.

“I know you want to find a new home for your church, but the name Gotha Rural Settlement implies rural,” a resident told the applicant.

“I really don’t think an 800-member church … is representative of what Gotha is,” another said.

Others questioned lights, drainage and the validity of the traffic study.

If built, this temple would be the largest building in Gotha.

“This is not something any of us are going to embrace,” one attendee said.

The original application was submitted Sept. 13, 2022. The public hearing before the Orange County Board of Zoning Adjustment is scheduled for July 6, and if approved, it will go before the Orange County Board of County Commissioners July 25.


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