EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 14, 2012

Salem OKs Hindu temple

Hindu center OK'd; witchcraft move pending

By Doug Ireland direland@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — SALEM — Construction of a Hindu temple will begin next spring on Lowell Road, but the Temple of Witchcraft’s proposed move awaits approval.

Both projects have raised the ire of neighbors, concerned about increased traffic and noise.

Residents opposed the two proposals during public hearings Tuesday before the town Planning Board. The board approved the Hindu temple, but is awaiting an engineering report for the Temple of Witchcraft.

Engineer David Jordan is handling both projects. He said his client, Dr. Deepak Sharma, expects to begin construction of the Hindu temple in the spring.

Abutters of the proposed 17,000-square-foot temple have objected to its size, saying the additional traffic it would attract will disrupt their quiet neighborhood.

Neighbors also opposed the building height. The Zoning Board of Adjustment granted a variance in May that allowed the temple to be 45 feet high — 10 feet higher than zoning allowed. Spires on the roof would be 77 feet high — compared to the maximum height of 80 feet for a steeple.

Residents first voiced disapproval at two public hearings last spring, winning their quest for a rehearing. But the ZBA’s decision was upheld. Three people objected to the Hindu temple Tuesday, Jordan said.

Jordan and Steve Kenson, Temple of Witchcraft co-founder and minister, said they are confident it will only be a matter of time before the temple receives approval to move from its current home at 2 Main St. to a two-story, 19th-century home at 49 N. Policy St.

The temple’s leaders want to use the first floor to teach classes in witchcraft; the second floor would be home to three of the organization’s ministers, Kenson said.

The group’s teachings are based on neopaganism, Kenson said. The temple has about 100 to 150 local members, and approximately 300 to 400 worldwide, he said. Many take the organization’s online courses.

The organization is seeking preliminary site plan approval, but action on the plan was delayed pending completion of an engineering report and the resolution of issues that include making sure proper screening is provided, according to Jordan and Planning Board Chairman Robert Campbell.

But five North Policy Street residents spoke against the project Tuesday, citing its overall impact on the neighborhood and whether it could be considered a church, which is a permitted use.

They include former Planning Board member Gene Bryant, who is worried the temple will become a distraction in his neighborhood. He questions whether it is truly a religious organization deserving of a zoning exemption.

“I challenged their right to the waiver,” Bryant said yesterday. “Are they really a church?”

Christine Davis, a mother of four, said she doesn’t object to the nonprofit group’s beliefs. But she doesn’t want the additional traffic, noise and an 18-space parking lot to be built next to her home.

The organization would renovate and use a barn on the 5-acre property, Kenson said. The house was last used as a private residence before the group purchased it in September for $420,000.

“I don’t have a problem with their study of witchcraft, it’s with the traffic and everything else,” Davis said.

She said she is concerned lights from the parking lot and use of the temple seven days a week until 10 p.m. will keep her children awake at night — never mind more cars driving past her home.

When the project was first proposed last month, Selectman Everett McBride Jr. said he received a few emails from people who worried about having the Temple of Witchcraft in their neighborhood.

Kenson, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, has said neighbors have no reason to worry. He said the “nature-based” organization has been in Salem for two years and holds peaceful rituals on a regular basis at the Masonic Temple, he said.

“They have absolutely nothing to be afraid of,” Kenson said. “We’re certainly not a threat to anyone. We believe very strongly that our practice isn’t for everyone.”

Campbell said the proposal could be back before Planning Board as early as December.