TRENTON -- The nation's largest Hare Krishna sect said this week it plans to build a 300-acre walled "city of God" near New Jersey's state capital as a home for 12,000 followers.
Sect leader Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada was scheduled to visit suburban Lawrence Township to meet with real estate agents, said William Henry, a spokesman for Bhaktipada.
Henry would not specify the exact location sought by the church, but said that at least three sites are under consideration and that all are in New Jersey within 20 miles of Trenton.
Bhaktipada is the leader of the largest Hare Krishna community in North America, a sect with 600 members who live at a 5,000-acre complex known as New Vrindaban in Moundsville, W.Va., a poor rural community about 70 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.
Bhaktipada's group reportedly has been the target of police investigations into allegations of laundering of drug money, sexual abuse of children and the slaying of a disgruntled sect member. He has denied the allegations and claims federal and West Virginia law enforcement authorities are harassing him in an attempt to discredit his sect.
Henry said in a telephone interview from West Virginia that Bhaktipada is looking for a 300-acre site on which to build a 260-foot-tall "Temple of Understanding" that would seat 6,000 people.
The $60 million, 375,000-square-foot temple would be surrounded by 16 smaller places of worship and apartments and town houses for 12,000 followers.
The "city of God" would include a 6.5-mile system of canals and transportation would be by boat, bicycle "or elephant," Henry said.
The city would be surrounded by a 4.5-mile-long wall, which Henry said would provide storage space and, "in time of crisis, a shelter for people." The city would have a "democratic assembly" form of government, he said.
Henry said the church has chosen the Trenton area as the proposed site of the city because of its proximity to major population centers.
Word of the Krishnas' plans quickly brought concern from local officials.
"I don't think our county growth management plan has a provision for a city of God, a suburb of God or a farm of God," said Mercer County Executive Bill Mathesius.
Mathesius said urban New Jersey's land use and environmental laws are far stricter than those of West Virginia and could thwart Bhaktipada's plans regardless of public sentiment.
"If they want to build a place for 12,000 people, they'd need a sewer system. That alone would be a big problem. It just won't happen here," Mathesius said.