ORANGE, CALIF. - A Buddhist congregation will be able to move forward with plans to build a long-awaited temple under the terms of a settlement announced today with the city of Garden Grove.

The agreement between the city and the Vietnamese Buddhism Study Temple in America -- represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, and Lee & Tran, LLP -- puts to rest a two-year-old dispute over the Buddhist group's development plans for a 1.8-acre parcel that it owns.

'This is a victory both for local control and for freedom of worship,' said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, an ACLU/SC attorney who litigated the case. 'It's a workable compromise that lets the city successfully regulate land use and also allows the temple members to worship as they see fit.'

At the heart of the dispute was a request for a zoning change that would allow the Buddhist group, also known as Quan Am Temple, to tear down an existing office complex and build an expanded temple where some of its monks could live and worship along with community members.

The city initially denied the application, citing complaints from neighbors about increased noise and traffic. But the denial raised freedom-of-religion concerns among the group's members.

As part of the settlement, the group will submit a revised zoning-change application to the Garden Grove Planning Commission for permission to tear down the former medical building and build a smaller, one-story temple that includes a residence for the monks.

The commission will expedite the zoning-change application and set a public hearing on it within 75 days of the application date. City staff will then recommend approval, provided the application conforms to zoning requirements. The matter then will go to the City Council for a vote.

'We cannot pre-judge this zoning-change application or guarantee its approval ahead of review,' said Matthew Fertal, Garden Grove City Manager. 'But we can assure the Buddhists that the previous lawsuit will have no effect on the city's decision and the application will receive fair consideration.'

The City of Garden Grove further will waive processing fees and will recognize Quan Am Temple's status as a tax-exempt religious group.

'I am very happy that we could reach an understanding,' said Thich Dao Quang, the temple's abbot. 'This disagreement was very painful for our community. We are glad it is behind us.'

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