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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Palolo temple trim ordered

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Circuit Judge Gary W.B. Chang yesterday ordered the Korean Buddhist Temple in Palolo Valley to chop 6.2 feet off the top of its 75-foot main hall.

A judge yesterday ordered the Korean Buddhist Temple in Palolo Valley to whack 6.2 feet off its top. But it may not be over yet.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

But neighbors and conservationists said they are considering an appeal to the Hawai'i Supreme Court to get another three feet removed — a cut so deep they believe the whole building will have to come down.

With neighbors and devotees and gray-robed monks and nuns packing his small courtroom, Chang all but begged the parties to give up the legal battles which have gone on for about 13 years.

"The commitment of the plaintiffs (neighbors and Life of the Land) is admirable," the judge said, "but the court wonders toward what end, and if it is worth it to continue the fight over three feet of elevation."

Plaintiffs' attorney Fred Benco said it was. During one of the many hearings before the city's Zoning Board of Appeals on the temple, Benco said, he saw the board turn down a Kane'ohe homeowner who wanted to build his masonry wall just nine inches higher to block the noise from Kahekili Highway.

"These guys (the temple) have an extra three feet on a building half the size of an outdoor movie screen," Benco said in an interview.

"It seems," said Life of the Land leader Henry Curtis, "we have two playing fields: one for giant corporations with money, and the other for the common people."

Temple leaders indicated they were relieved that they now have a clear ruling and can ask engineers to draw plans to remove 6.2 feet, beginning at the high ends of a blade-like ridge line atop the sweeping roof.

But they were far from overjoyed.

"It's going to look like it's been scalped," said Temple associate John Griffiths. "It's going to be a flat top."

When it was built in 1988, the temple exceeded height limits in effect at the time, which allowed a building to be 25 feet higher than the highest point of the buildable area on the lot. On the temple's steeply sloping site, that allowed a building about 68 feet tall at one end. But the temple soared to about 75 feet, nine feet more than indicated on its building permit and almost seven feet higher than the maximum elevation allowed.

The temple sought a height variance from the city and filed five unsuccessful court appeals when it was turned down. When the temple went to the state Supreme Court in 1998, it lost again.

But in 1999, City Planning and Permitting Director Jan Sullivan said she considered the issue still open and held that the temple exceeded the height limit by 6.2 feet.