Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed these blue flyers affixed to telephone polls and other signs along Boulevard Way in the Saranap neighborhood. These flyers once again raise questions about the size of the proposed sanctuary to be built by Sufism Reoriented, a Saranap-based religious organization.
“Too big for story poles?!?!?!” ask the flyers, one of which is pictured here.
“According to Sufism Reoriented, the sanctuary building is too large and too complex to put up story poles.”
Okay, what are story poles, what project am I talking about, and who is behind the flyers?
Sufism Reoriented proposes to construct a white, 66,000-square-foot, multi-domed “sanctuary” on a 3.25-acre site wedged mostly amongst single-family homes in this older, residential neighborhood in unincorporated Walnut Creek.
The project has hit a raw nerve in this neighborhood, with longtime residents complaining that such a large, white “spaceship-looking” building (bigger than the White House) would not fit in the character of their semi-rural neighborhood. The address would be on Boulevard Way, and there are apartments and office buildings along one side.
Sufism Reoriented leaders say the building, particularly the domes, was designed to blend in with the surrounding, grass covered hills. They also say it would be eco-friendly, “nestled in a glade of trees,” and, with two-thirds of it tucked underground, it would not be visible to most neighbors.
Opponents claim it would be highly obtrusive and have asked the 350-member religious organization to erect what are called “story poles.” If you’re not in construction, story poles are wooden structures, often built of 2X4s that are erected on the site of a proposed development to give builders, neighbors, government officials a visual indication of its size and visual impact.
Sanctuary opponents say Sufism is refusing to erect the story poles because they don’t want the neighbors and county planners, who are reviewing the plans, to see how massive the sanctuary truly will be. Apparently, a representative of Sufism reoriented said earlier this year that it would be very costly to erect the story poles and that they are an old-fashioned, inefficient way to really judge a project’s size and visual impact.
Sanctuary opponents, leaders of an organization called Save Our Saranap, deny posting the flyers. It’s also possible that the flyers have been up there a while. However, although I don’t live in the Saranap, I still drive, walk, or run through that area on an almost daily basis, and it wasn’t until a couple weeks ago that I noticed these flyers.
I’ve e-mailed a representative of Sufism Reoriented to see if the organization has any comment on the flyers and the story pole issue, but haven’t heard back from him yet. If I do, I’ll pass along what he has to say.
As I reported back in March, many Sufism Reoriented members have made the Saranap neighborhood their home, and have apparently co-existed peacefully with their non-Sufism neighbors for decades. But things started to become tense in the neighborhood, when Sufism Reoriented went public with its sanctuary plans. Friends who live in the neighborhood were telling me stories about being bombarded with aggressive door-to-door visits by Sufism members and pro-sanctuary press releases and expensive newsletters.
Sufism Reoriented says it wants to build a beautiful house of worship for its members, where they can also participate in the organization’s many religious, civic, and arts activities.
It’s not clear whether the appearance of these flyers represent some new rise in tensions over this controversial issue. But I’m told that county planners are finishing up their review of the project, and possibly, by the beginning of the new year, it will go back to the neighbors for further discussion and debate.