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Zoning board postpones decision on Buddhist association's move

A Buddhist as­sociation returned Monday night to the Northwest Consolidated Zoning Board for a second hearing of its plan to move from Olathe to Johnson County, but the meeting ended with no decision.

The zoning board heard public comment and discussed the issue with county staff for over four hours Monday night. After 11:30 p.m. the board passed a motion to remand it to a special meeting next month.

The Lao Buddhist Association of Olathe wants to move to a 14-acre plot west of Olathe, a zone where churches need con­ditional-use per­mits. The association's church has been at 721 Spruce St. since 1997.

The zoning board voted unanimously on Jan. 24 to recommend denial of the association's request to Johnson County Commission. The county commission met on Feb.24 and voted to return the issue to the zoning board for a second hearing.

Mike Fowks, zoning board chair, asked that speakers avoid revisiting history in Monday's meeting, asking for only new information.

"There's been a lot of water under the bridge with this," he said.

Whatever the zoning board recommends, the county commission will issue the final vote approving or denying the permit request.

Monday night's meeting drew 60 people, 20 of whom spoke against the association's permit request. Diane Wicklund and other members of the department of planning, which has recommended approval of the permit request, presented the issue to the zoning board for reconsideration. The county commissioners has sent a dozen questions to the zoning board, asking for specific reasons why the permit request should be denied.

The board also heard from county building official Jerry Mallory and public works engineer Jim Hayhow. Mallory said that repeated testing of the water pressure at the proposed site yielded results much lower than previous estimates and discussed alternatives for providing water for fire safety. He also explained that one of the buildings on the proposed site would require work to meeting building and fire codes if reconstructed or used for different purposes.

Hayhow answered questions about traffic and water drainage, which were areas of concern raised many times in the public comment period that followed.

"There are really no traffic capacity issues in this area," Hayhow said. He added that the property met all of the standard requirements for water drainage.

Deputy county counselor Richard Lind advised the zoning board on the laws relevant to religious discrimination in land use. He also spoke about the county commission's request for specific reasons for denying the request.

"Be aware that these reasons need to be of compelling government interest," Lind said. "Interests of the highest order."

The zoning board scheduled a special meeting to make its recommendation on April 11 at 7 p.m. on the third floor of 111 S. Cherry St. in Olathe. The meeting will be open to the public but the board will not hear more public comment. The board has until April 18 to recommend approval or denial of the permit request to the county commission, or its earlier vote to deny will stand for the record.

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