Knight Ridder/Tribune
July 07, 2001

They're worlds apart -- McDonald's and a Hare Krishna temple, whose members don't eat meat.

But the hamburger chain wants to be neighbors. The Hare Krishnas don't. The East Dallas temple's members are fighting plans for a drive-through McDonald's at East Grand Avenue and Interstate 30. They argue that the restaurant would disturb their quiet enclave of 100 Hare Krishnas by adding noise, trash, traffic and the smell of meat.

"We just really feel offended that McDonald's is planning to come here. A big part of our religion is vegetarianism; it's one of our main beliefs," said Mike Meyer, a Hare Krishna. "It's like an in-your-face type of thing."

McDonald's officials said that residents have the right to voice their concerns but that many others in the neighborhood want the restaurant. "McDonald's has a great heritage of community service and is committed to be a good neighbor," regional senior marketing manager Zenola Worrill Campbell said in a written statement. "To date we appreciate the support and encouragement we have received from the vast amount of neighbors and businesses in the area for the pending site at I-30 and Grand."

Karen Skinner, the franchise owner, said the proposed restaurant would improve the area.

"We're going to create jobs and beautify the area," Ms. Skinner said. She added that McDonald's keeps its properties clean and that the company may use fencing as a buffer to the neighborhood.

"We're really trying to be a good neighbor," she said. "That's our goal, not to hurt or harm anyone."

Hare Krishnas say the restaurant would ruin the essence of the neighborhood they've worked to improve over the years. Members have formed crime watches, opened a school and renovated about 30 pastel bungalows surrounding a former church transformed to look like an Indian temple.

The homes, school and temple -- with its popular vegetarian restaurant Kalachandji's inside -- create a vibrant community. Women in saris and men in kurtas, or long tunics, walk to and from the temple for daily services, which begin at 4:30 a.m. Members hail from countries around the world, including India, Singapore and Argentina.

The city's Plan Commission is scheduled to vote July 12 whether to approve the restaurant, which is not currently allowed on half the 1-acre site. The City Council must make the final decision.

The McDonald's would be built on the site of a former Army and Navy store facing the busy East Grand Avenue, which includes sit-down Mexican restaurants and a Church's Chicken.

The existing restaurants don't infringe on the neighborhood because they do not have drive-throughs and are buffered by an alley and homes that face Philip Avenue, some residents said.

Hare Krishnas said McDonald's would extend farther into the residential area by backing up to the corner of Philip and Fairview avenues, diagonally across from the Hare Krishna school. Opponents said they're concerned because traffic could exit onto Fairview Avenue.

"It's an intrusion into the neighborhood," said Jayanti, the Hare Krishna school principal and teacher.

The city sent notices about the proposal to allow a drive-through restaurant to 44 surrounding property owners, said David Cossum, city planning manager. So far, seven have opposed the project, and three were in favor, he said.

Dallas Plan Commissioner Lawrence Wheat, who represents the neighborhood, said he has not decided how to vote. But he said that it has been tough to attract economic development to that area and that Ms. Skinner has proven success at several other locations.

Mr. Wheat said it was "pathetic" that religion has become an issue in the case.

"I want to do what I can to respect the neighborhood, but under these circumstances, it's very difficult," Mr. Wheat said. "The opposition, the Hare Krishnas, to me, some of what they're hurling has gone too far."

He was referring to comments on a Web site created by another neighborhood group that states McDonald's does not treat animals well and doesn't care about the environment.

Despite the opposition, some residents have voiced support for McDonald's.

"I don't have any problem with it," said Armando Velasquez, who lives a few houses from the proposed site. "I go to McDonald's a lot."

George Burgess, owner of the Burgess Co. near the site, said he thinks McDonald's would boost property values.

"I think it would be an improvement to the neighborhood," Mr. Burgess said.

Accountant Frank Sherrod said he'd like another restaurant in the neighborhood.

"The more new businesses around here, the better," he said. But some other non-Hare Krishna neighbors oppose the plan. "I can't believe they even thought about moving a restaurant into the Krishna community," said Ann Harkness, who's involved with the activist group United People Resisting Oppression and Racism. "I'm downright incensed."

The group, which owns a house near the temple, has made T-shirts with the McDonald's logo with a slash through it. They also have created a Web site, www.stopmcdonalds.org.

Hare Krishnas said their religious beliefs make the proposal difficult to accept.

"Philosophically, it flies in our face," said Nityananda Dasa, president of the temple, called Kalachandji's Palace. "This is a spiritual oasis. Anything that disturbs our spiritual development obviously bothers us."

The school principal noted the irony of having a hamburger restaurant across the street from a place where she teaches children about vegetarianism. About 16 students attend the private school.

"I was telling the children no longer will we be able to open the windows and smell the fresh air," Jayanti said. "They said, 'Yuck.' "

The Hare Krishnas have a long history in East Dallas. The first group came in 1970 and bought the former Mount Auburn Christian Church the next year. More than 1,000 attend services at the ornate sanctuary inside. Many more eat at Kalachandji's.

The religion, based on 5,000-year-old Hindu holy literature, teaches compassion and simplicity and uses chanting to connect with God.

Hare Krishnas have met with elected officials and McDonald's representatives. But given their differences, they don't see how to make the plans more acceptable, Mr. Meyer said. Temple members have suggested that McDonald's look at another vacant site nearby, on the other side of Grand Avenue.

"We just don't want it here," Mr. Meyer said.

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