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-throughMcDonald's at East Grand Avenue and Interstate 30. They argue that therestaurant would disturb their quiet enclave of 100 Hare Krishnas byadding 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 mainbeliefs," said Mike Meyer, a Hare Krishna. "It's like an in-your-facetype of thing."

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

Karen Skinner, the franchise owner, said the proposed restaurant wouldimprove 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 thecompany 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 theneighborhood they've worked to improve over the years. Members haveformed crime watches, opened a school and renovated about 30 pastelbungalows surrounding a former church transformed to look like an Indiantemple.

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

The city's Plan Commission is scheduled to vote July 12 whether toapprove the restaurant, which is not currently allowed on half the1-acre site. The City Council must make the final decision.

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

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

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

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

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

Dallas Plan Commissioner Lawrence Wheat, who represents theneighborhood, said he has not decided how to vote. But he said that ithas 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 inthe case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"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 theKrishna community," said Ann Harkness, who's involved with the activistgroup United People Resisting Oppression and Racism. "I'm downrightincensed."