Federal Court Rules in Favor of Controversial Sikh Temple

Sutter County is home to a large Sikh population, but shear number haven’t helped one congregation find a place to build a temple. Instead, it took intervention by a federal court.

For two years, the 75-member Guru Nanak Sikh Society tried to build a temple on a small plot of land just outside Yuba City. Their efforts were thwarted by county officials, who maintained that the two-acre lot was too small.

The congregation resolved to purchase a larger parcel of land, finally settling on a 30-acre farm on South George Washington Boulevard. That seemed like the answer to the problem, but more roadblocks were in store.

Although the orchard land purchased by the Sikhs was zoned for agriculture, things initially looked positive for the congregation. The Sutter County Community Services Department recommended approval of the project, as long as the society agreed to abide be certain environmental restrictions. The Sutter County Planning Commission also approved the use of the property as a temple.

Then, however, opponents of the temple appealed to the county Board of Supervisors. After listening to testimony, the board unanimously voted to withhold approval. “We thought it was inappropriate to have a church located in an agriculturally-zoned area,” said Sutter County Supervisor Dennis Nelson.

This time, instead of seeking a different piece of property, the congregation went to federal court. Ultimately, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Sutter County’s denial violated a relatively new federal law limiting land use decisions that get in the way of religious practices.

Society spokesman Sukh Singh is delighted with the outcome. “I feel very happy and I’m very grateful to the judge,” said Singh.

The congregation plans to convert a 2,300-square-foot home on the property into a 2,800-square-foot temple. The permit application specifies that the structure will accommodate a maximum of 75 people.

Sutter County hasn’t decided on whether an pursue and appeal of the federal court decision.

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