Interfaith campus expansion proposed

Plans by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus and the Hindu Society of Southern Indiana to create an interfaith campus on Columbus’ west side are temporarily on hold after city officials asked for more project details.

Unitarian Church congregation member Allen Gifford and Vijay Gopal, a board member with the Hindu Society of Southern Indiana, went before the Columbus Plan Commission last week seeking approval to rezone an 8.56-acre property at 7850 and 7930 Goeller Road from agriculture preferred to public/semi-public facilities.

The congregation and the society each own one of the lots and plan to merge the property into one interfaith campus, with plans for several more buildings and additional parking.

A motion to forward a favorable recommendation to Columbus City Council failed during Wednesday’s meeting in a 5-1 vote, with commission member Laurie Booher voting against it.

Booher said she wanted to see more details on the site plan and buildings that are part of the proposed project before making a final decision. The applicants plan to come back to the commission next month.

Six votes are required by the commission to move a favorable recommendation forward to the council. Three plan commission members — Mike Harris, Roger Lang and Dave Fisher — were absent, while Dennis Baute and Barry Kastner recused themselves from voting since they are members of the Unitarian church.

Rocky Myers, who lives west of the property where the interfaith campus would be located, told commission members he was concerned about the interfaith campus encroaching on his property and possible flooding that might occur from the development.

A specific site plan for the interfaith campus will have to be submitted to the commission if the rezoning is approved by Columbus City Council, said Jeff Bergman, city-county planning director. Bergman said that site plan would address issues such as an established buffer between Myers’ property and the proposed interfaith campus.

Gifford did not have specific details on how much the project would cost the Unitarian Church Congregation of Columbus and the Hindu Society of Southern Indiana, or how much parking would be made available, saying those items are still yet to be determined. No specific timeline has been determined for the project, he said.

Gifford said the project was driven by a need for more space. The Hindu Society of Southern Indiana has purchased two acres just to the west of the Unitarian church property with both parties wishing to combine the two properties, according to the application filed with the city.

“We need to expand and have better buildings for our large congregation,” Gifford said. “We’ve been talking about how we can cooperate with each other, so this is just the first step.”

What's next

The Columbus Plan Commission will hear more details on a plan by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus and the Hindu Society of Southern Indiana to create an interfaith campus on Columbus’ west side. That will come during the commission’s 4 p.m. Oct. 11 meeting in Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com