NORTH HILLS : Sikhs File Appeal Over Religious Center

Vowing to take their case all the way to the City Council, members of a Sikh group Tuesday filed an appeal with the city to keep alive their plans to build a religious and community center in North Hills.

"I think that they would be foolish not to take this all the way to council," said Pauline Amond, a lawyer for Ramgarhia, a group of about 100 Sikhs living in the Valley. "They really feel they have a right to worship as well as everyone else."

The appeal follows less than two weeks after the group's leaders issued charges of discrimination when an associate city zoning administrator rejected its plans to convert a vacant residence at 14920 Plummer St. into a 33,000-square-foot religious, day-care and senior citizens center. It would be only the second Sikh religious center in the Valley.

Ramgarhia leaders said the facility would be used by as many as 150 members and provide senior activities and day care for approximately 25 children. Thirty parking spaces would be provided.

In denying the project in June, the city cited too much activity on the lot and a detrimental impact to the character of the neighborhood. At a hearing in August, a petition was presented with the signatures of more than 80 residents against the project.

The appeal did not include a scaled-down version of the project, Amond said. Instead, she said Ramgarhia members are willing to meet with community members and Tom Henry, planning deputy for City Councilman Joel Wachs, to ease concerns about noise and traffic at the proposed site.

Reaction from the community was mixed. Some cited a community meeting proposed last August by the Ramgarhia leaders.

"It was up to them to set up a community meeting and they never did," Henry said. "I would love for everyone to get together and see if something can be worked out."

Brigitte Siatos, vice president of the North Hills Community Coordinating Council, said the meeting amounted to too little, too late.

"I'm disappointed about the whole way everything is being handled," Siatos said. "I just question how many East Indian people or Sikhs live in North Hills. I believe a community has a church based on people living in the community who want to have a church close by."

Haspinder Singh Manku, 38, a Ramgarhia leader who lives in Northridge, said that many of the group's members moved in the 1960s from Africa to the north Valley, including North Hills. Sikhism is a Hindu-based religion.

"As it is, we all live in this community," Manku said. "It's not like we are from the outside."

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