Temple lowersThe peaked roof line of a Palolo Buddhist temple has been whittled down by more than six feet in a demolition project church leaders hope will end their 13-year legal wrangle with neighbors.
roof to please
Some neighbors are not satisfied
and plan to seek further
relief in the Supreme Court
By Mary Adamski
Construction work, now in its third week at the Mu-Ryang-Sa Buddhist Temple of Hawaii at 2559 Waiomao Road in Palolo Valley, will bring the structure into compliance with a 1999 Department of Planning and Permitting order upheld earlier this year in Circuit Court, the temple's attorney, Roger Moseley, said.
Expect the fight to continue in court, said Fred Benco, attorney for the Concerned Citizens of Palolo and Life of the Land. "They have talked the city into (allowing) cosmetic changes. We are going to seek relief in the Supreme Court."
Opponents still want the building lowered nine feet, in compliance with a 1998 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that "they must take everything over 66 feet down," Benco said.
"We believe the city has tanked for 13 years," Benco said. "After 15 public hearings, the city in 1999 with no due process comes up with 6.2 feet. For the last three years, the city and the temple have been dealing quietly without involving the residents," Benco said.
With its colorful tiled roof and carved features, the facility formerly known as Dae Won Sa Temple has become a landmark, visible from a distance on the east side of the valley. Built on a slope that reaches 25 feet above the nearest street, the highest point of the building is 75 feet.
"Now instead of saddle-shaped, (the roof) will be flat across the top; instead of pointed corners, it will appear flat," Moseley said. "The peak of the roof was removed. It is actually pretty ugly. ... People can blame the neighbors who filed the lawsuit."
He said 6.8 feet was removed, more than the mandated 6.2 feet because "they wanted to make sure they were unarguably in compliance with what the court ordered ... and because they needed space to pour in additional concrete to cover the hole." The demolition has not altered the inside of the temple.
Temple office manager C.K. Kim said the contractor, Sam's Builders, has been working for a couple of weeks and that only the main cultural center building had to be lowered.
Charles Helsley, a neighbor who sees the landmark as a cement mass towering over surrounding single-story homes, said opponents want the structure lowered by one whole story. "The issue is that the whole thing is in excess of the maximum allowed height. The whole roof, every last square inch of it, should be lowered to conform to the height allowed in the law.
"The real problem is that the city has not enforced the provision of the code that said you cannot make a nonconforming building more nonconforming," said Helsley. "We've been trying to make that point for a long time, but (no) judge would hear it."
One of the frustrations from the beginning, he said, was that the building permit was issued under the former comprehensive zoning code, six days before it was replaced by the stricter land use ordinance.
Helsley is one of the few people remaining in Palolo from the group whose initial suit led the city to halt construction in February 1988. Several have moved away, including Lewis Moore, the original complainant.
"Several people died. Recently another house has been sold. Almost everything that was owner-occupied has become rental property," said the homeowner. "People have taken the other way out, said, 'Fine, we'll go elsewhere.'"
Moseley said Circuit Judge Gary W.B. Chang gave the temple until Sept. 1 to lower the roof. The project is being monitored by attorney Jim Dandar, who was appointed court master.
During the years, the temple leadership failed in several attempts to get a variance for the structure and to resume construction. At one point it sought $315 million in a suit against the city, alleging that zoning restrictions denied the congregation the right to freely practice its religion.
A few years ago, in a mass mailing to Palolo residents, it proposed alternatives to defacing the temple that would involve putting the estimated demolition cost into a community fund.
Two years ago, temple leaders changed the name to Mu-Ryang-Sa to reflect the inevitable conclusion of the court fights. The new title translates to "broken ridge" Buddhist temple.