The City Council gave its approval Monday night for a controversial parking deck to be built at the Iranian American Jewish Federation temple on the northwest corner of Crescent Heights and Fountain Avenue.
That 100-space, three-level parking deck will accommodate people attending events held at the federation’s banquet hall, Neman Hall. The temple uses Neman Hall for religious celebrations, including weddings, high holidays, and Bar Mitzvahs.
Residents living nearby have long complained of noise coming from people leaving Neman Hall late at night. They say the hall is a commercial facility that operates with nightclub hours, often staying open until the wee hours of the morning.
The city has long tried to find a way to control the noise problem. The Iranian American Jewish Federation has frequently cited the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which gives religious institutions the ability to avoid zoning restrictions on their property.
The Iranian American Jewish Federation indicated it was willing to accept restrictions on the banquet hall’s hours of operation if the city approved the parking deck. The council first held a public hearing about the parking deck at its Nov. 7 meeting, but sent the plans back for revision.
Those revised plans call for the three-level deck to have subterranean, ground level and rooftop parking. The roof level will have a canvas covering to trap sound. The parking deck will be entirely valet parking.
Public comment lasted almost an hour on Monday night as 33 residents spoke. The comments seemed equally divided as temple supporters and angry neighbors both spoke passionately on the subject.
“The current status quo won’t work. [The temple] is not going to go away,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Prang. “Our job is to try to be the referees and find a solution.”
The council briefly discussed making the parking structure entirely subterranean. However, Councilman John D’Amico, an architect, said underground parking requires ventilation systems that would have to run 24 hours a day, thereby creating continuous noise, which would likely bother the neighbors.
Mayor John Duran liked the parking structure the temple was proposing, saying he thought it would solve the problem.
Councilman John Heilman said he believed the parking deck would solve some problems, but not eliminate them.
Councilwoman Abbe Land expressed doubts the parking deck would solve the noise problem, saying she hated for the temple to spend money on an idea she was not convinced would work.
However, she was outvoted, 3-2. Duran, D’Amico and Prang voted to approve the structure while Heilman joined Land in voting against it.
Hours of operation
In exchange for approval of the parking deck, the Iranian American Jewish Federation agreed to restrict the hours of operation for Neman Hall.
Although city staff was recommending the banquet hall close at 11 p.m. on weeknights, 12:30 a.m. on weekends, the council rejected those hours. Instead, the council approved the closing times that the temple proposed – midnight Monday through Wednesday, 12:30 a.m. Thursday and Friday, and 1:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The Iranian American Jewish Federation has been voluntarily operating under those hours for the past year as an experiment to see if they would work. The city’s code compliance division reported there had been no violations in the past year.
The council’s hands were somewhat tied in regards to the hours. The temple indicated it would take the city to court if any hours other than the ones it proposed were adopted. Previous court cases citing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act have almost always favored the church/temple.
At Prang’s suggestion, the council gave the Community Development Director the power to review Neman Hall’s hours of operation every six months. If there are code violations, the director can then further restrict those hours. Prang noted that provision would create an incentive for the temple to keep attendees quiet as they leave.
After the council vote, temple spokesperson David Carlat, a land use consultant, told Patch they were “elated” the council ruled in their favor.
“It’s been a long fight, but clearly at this point, we’ve finally been able to prevail upon the council the importance of moving forward with this so we can solve not only the temple’s parking problems, but also alleviate many of the concerns of the neighbors,” Carlat said.
Depending on whether anyone files an appeal, Carlat said they should be able to break ground on the parking structure in about a year. He said it would take that long for city staff to sign off on the plans.
While residents opposed to the parking deck declined to comment about the council’s ruling, they indicated they were considering an appeal.