A Montgomery County hearing examiner has ruled that the International Society for Krishna Consciousness should be allowed to build a monastery on a 15-acre site in Potomac, despite efforts by the county to block construction and opposition by Potomac residents who find the Krishna devotees "too noisy."
The proposed monastery would be located about a mile east of Falls Road at 10310 Oaklyn Rd., where the Krishna followers already have a facility that serves as a combination temple, residence, banquet hall and Washington area office.
The proposed monastery would be a one-story building of about 12 rooms which would include living quarters of Krishna monks - called "bramachari" - and would also contain a library.
The facility would also be used as a residence for men who are studying to become bramachari, according to members of the religions sect.
The Krishna faith, which originated in India, requires its monks to take vows of abstinence. They are required to maintain complete celibacy, and are forbidden to use alcohol, drugs, coffee, tea or cigarettes. Gambling is also forbidden and Krishna monks must be strict vegetarians.
Montgomery County going officials denied the group a building permit last summer on grounds that the Krishnas wanted to build a dormitory for transients. Dormitories are not allowed in that area of Potomac, which is zoned for residential use.
Hearing Examiner Stephen J. Orens, who decided the Krishnas' appeal Thursday, ruled that "The structure proposed . . . is a necessary and useful facility in connection with the religious activities of the (Krishnas)." It is therefore permitted under the residential zoning of that portion of Potomac, which allows for "churches," convents, monasteries and other places of worship."
Orens' decision must still be approved by the County Board of Appeals. Traditionally, the board adopts the hearing examiner's decision, according to county officials.
There is still the possibility, however, that the Department of Environmental Protection, which originally denied the Krishnas' building permit, will attempt again to block construction by appealing the case in the county's Circuit Court, according to Assistant County Attorney A. Katherine Hart.
The Krishnas' problems with county officials thus far have centered on the legal requirements of the area's zoning regulations, but in the quiet residential neighborhood around their present facility they have faced a somewhat more intractable image problem.
Residents in the area have complained about the noise of the chanting in Krishna services, which are held outdoors during the warm months.
Neighbors have also complained about the large crowds the Krishna center occasionally attracts for Sunday picnics and worship services.
The powerful West Montgomery County Citizens Association, which serves as a citizens' watchdog over all forms of development in the Potomac area, took a neutral stand on the Krishna monastery question. But the group's president, Sally Kanchuger, said recently that she has received calls from Potomac residents concerned not only about the noise but also "the presence of an actively proselytizing religion in their neighborhood."
"I don't care whether they're Catholic or Protestant or Krishna, they're entitled to worship . . . The problem is the noise," said James Metcalf, who lives near the center. "As long as there's no noise, there won't be any problems."
According to His Grace Robert F. Corens, head minister of the Krishna society, the Krishna devotees have good relations with most neighbors.
The current Krishna facility had been a youth recreational center until the religious group bought it two years ago. Many of the neighbors have found the Krishna devotees to be much quieter than the youngsters who used to play at the center, Corens said after the appeals hearing in November.
Since that time, the Krishnas appeared to have gained a wider acceptance in the Potomac community. Their advertisements for free lunches for anyone interested in learning about Krishna religious beliefs now appear in Potomac's local paper, The Potomac Almanac, and Corens is now a member of the local citizens association.