MONROE, CT — Jih Rong Temple, whose members practice Taoism, will move into the building at 707 Main St., where it will host services and try to build upon its congregation of 25 to 50 people.
On Thursday night, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved its change of use application for the building, a former restaurant and banquet facility that currently houses Fairfield Auction.
Jack and Rosemarie Slawinski, who opened Fairfield Auction there nearly 13 years ago, are selling their property to the to Jih Rong Temple Corp.
The temple plans to use a portion of the approximately 9,800-square-foot building for worship services that will be held Sundays, between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., while leasing out the rest of the space to commercial tenants, who will need commission approvals for their use of the facility.
The change of use application allowing a place of worship was approved by a vote of 3 to 2.
Secretary Ryan Condon noted there was concern over traffic during the hearing, but said the current use on Sundays is greater with more traffic than what is proposed for the temple. He added traffic would be significantly higher if the building went back to being a restaurant.
“Again, I think it’s great that we are welcoming a new faith to our community,” Condon said before voting in favor of the application.
Chairman Michael O’Reilly and Vice Chairman Bruno Maini joined Condon in voting yes.
Robert Westlund, a commissioner, said there was discontent and pushback from some residents who expressed concerns over traffic during the hearing. He also noted there would be a permanent loss of tax revenue, because the temple will not pay property taxes.
Westlund voted no.
The Sun had asked Assessor Justin Feldman how the property would be taxed.
“The portion of the property which is being utilized exclusively for religious purposes will be exempted pursuant to CGS 12-81(13) and the portion of building/property which is being leased out for commercial purposes will be assessed as taxable property,” Feldman explained.
Leon Ambrosey, a commissioner, also voted no.
“I think when this came in front of us we should have required a traffic study, because a church is different than a restaurant,” he said. “I have big concerns. A church lets out at the same time.”
History of the property
The building used to be 707 On Main, a restaurant and catering facility. Then the property was bought by Jack and Rosemarie Slawinski, who opened Fairfield Auction.
The couple said they believed the facility with 198 parking spaces was an ideal venue for hosting live auctions.
But the COVID-19 pandemic forced the couple to hold online auctions, in which top bidders later picked up their purchases curbside. The change worked out so well, they now hold smaller live auctions, as well as virtual ones.
“We’re moving to a smaller building,” Rosemarie said, though she could not say where due to pending negotiations.
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