The owner of Shree Ganesh Hindu temple at 2545 Devon Avenue has applied for a special use permit that would officially make the storefront temple a religious institution and allow it to operate on Devon Avenue regardless of its impact on the neighborhood. The temple and the alderman took care not to alert neighboring residents and will present the community with another done deal after the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) rules in the temple’s favor. This is a foregone conclusion–the alderman backs the plan, yet another example of the way democracy works in Chicago, the ZBA, and the 50th Ward.
Building a Hindu Temple on Devon is a very bad idea and should not simply sail through the approval process without community input.
Understand, I am not opposed to the Hindu temple itself. But Devon is the wrong location for it, it will create severe traffic and parking problems, and the hundreds of tourists who are expected to drive here daily for photo ops will worsen the already heavy air and noise pollution that hang over Devon like clouds some days. It will also drive traffic into residential areas already overburdened by drivers who park haphazardly and shoppers who throw garbage everywhere. Why not build it on Western, which has ample vacant lots for a temple and parking? On a lot that would showcase the 40-foot high rooftop addition and make it easier to photograph without halting traffic?
Oh, wait. When plans were first announced for the temple in late 2016, the daughter of the temple’s owner suggested that only about 150 people would be expected on a daily basis, about 50 of them living within walking distance. However, she did state clearly that the temple is intended to attract hundreds of tourists to Devon’s Indian shopping area, thus making the temple less about religion than about commerce. Although the family claims that a Hindu temple is needed to bring the community together–this was actually said with a straight face by the temple’s lawyer–its purpose is clearly to draw customers to its owner’s four other businesses.
Despite claims by the temple’s owner that Hindis are increasingly moving to West Ridge, in fact, according to the 2010 U.S. Religious Census, the Chicago Metropolitan area (defined as Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin) claims only 6,000 Hindu adherents out of a total population of more than 9.4 million people. According to The Pew Research Center’s 2008 Religious Landscape Study, only about 1,300 Hindu live in Illinois, or less than 1% of the population. Less than .7% of the U.S. population identifies as Hindu.
What the temple’s owner hears is not a great clamor crying out for community, but merely the ka-ching of his own cash registers.
I might add that the temple used the Republic Bank parking lot, not zoned for religious observances or public performances, to celebrate the end of yet another unannounced (at least to residents) festival held over Labor Day that required setting up four loudspeakers blasting dance music into the homes of residents living just ten feet away. The affair had the alderman’s full support. The current festival that began on September 21 is scheduled to end on September 30, Yom Kippur, one of the Jewish high holy days. I wonder if Hindu celebrants will set up loudspeakers again to celebrate the triumph of good over evil while others are observing their holy day in quiet prayer and contemplation. Maybe the temple’s business angle gives it immunity from legal obligations and niceties like consideration for others.
You’d think that an additional couple of hundred more cars per day clogging one of the most congested streets in the City would be cause for concern. You’d hope that air quality for residents, including children attending schools located within a block of Devon, would be a priority. You’d assume that ample parking for the vehicles of hundreds of camera-laden tourists would be part of the planning process. You’d want to know if they’ll be arriving in sedans or RVs. You’d think the impact on nearby residential streets and alleys would be studied. You’d think the community would be invited to consider the problems inherent in placing a temple smack in the middle of a commercial strip surrounded by thousands of dwellings, schools, and senior citizens.
Ha!. This is the 50th Ward.
No traffic, parking, or environmental impact studies are planned. Neither are any community meetings.
You see, Debra Silverstein doesn’t care if the temple has a negative environmental or quality of life impact on the community. She’s never cared much for the southeast end of the ward, and my guess is that it will be ceded to another alderman with the coming ward remap. The formula is simple: election 2019; census 2020; ward redistricting 2021. She isn’t interested in economic development, either, and the Indian merchants and property owners along Devon run the show, such as it is. Why not build a temple? Let Joe Moore or Harry Osterman or Pat O’Connor deal with the consequences. It won’t be Silverstein’s problem any more.
But the way she went about it should be remembered by every voter in 2019. It’s time for the voters of the 50th Ward to stand up against Silverstein’s secret deals, her unilateral decisions benefiting special interests at the community’s expense, her disregard for residents’ quality of life, her lack of transparency and penchant for secrecy, and her lack of interest in economic development.
Devon Avenue doesn’t need a Hindu temple.
But West Ridge needs an alderman with a vision, a plan, and a talent for leadership.