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People fill a theater at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012, as the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors gather to hear both sides in a fight over a proposed 60,000-square-foot Sufi sanctuary in the Saranap area. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Staff)

The more than 700 people who packed Lesher Center's Hofmann Theatre on Tuesday heard a pair of fascinating presentations at a special meeting of the Contra Costa supervisors. (You knew the meeting was special because the Locust Street garage was charging "event parking" rates.)

In one presentation, speakers described a horrid commercial development that threatens to rip the soul out of a quiet community with two years of noisy construction, diesel-burning earth movers, hoisting cranes and concrete trucks, all to build a mammoth structure that will clash with the surroundings and cause parking problems.

It gave you the heebie-jeebies just to think about it.

In a second presentation, another set of speakers described an artfully designed religious building to be crafted of white marble and carefully landscaped to engender tranquillity and unity among spiritually energized members, and overwhelmingly supported by the community.

In both cases, the subject was the Sufism Reoriented sanctuary planned for Saranap.

There seems to be more than one view of this project.

Before proceeding, it's important to understand the proposed specifications: a 66,000-square-foot structure -- 46,000 square feet of that below ground -- that includes a domed ceiling rising to 33 feet 6 inches, located on a 3-acre plot of ground.

Members of the religious organization, most of whom live nearby, look at it as an answer to their dreams, with a worship hall, classrooms, cafe, bookstore and chorus rehearsal room. Opponents see it more as a bubble-topped, screaming-white eyesore that doesn't belong in their community.

That its fate now rests with the Board of Supervisors is a function of the land-use process. Once the county's Planning Commission approved the project, this was the next avenue of appeal. The stream of supporters and opponents who pleaded their cases Tuesday squared off on nearly every side of the issue.

A sanctuary advocate charged that opposition was a product of religious discrimination. Residents said this isn't about religion; it was about a project that overwhelms the neighborhood.

One resident who works in architectural design praised the thoughtful design. Another, with 31 years experience as an interior designer, said the excavation will require 3,300 dump trucks of earth removal and wreak havoc on the neighborhood.

A visiting Catholic bishop and a local rabbi both praised the good works, love of God's creations and generous nature exhibited by Sufism Reoriented practitioners. A resident asked if the Sufis so treasured all forms of life, why they lacked the love to listen to the wishes of their Saranap neighbors.

You could almost hear transmissions grinding inside supervisors' heads, struggling to switch gears as quickly as the arguments jerked in different directions.

The hearing will resume Wednesday, but more rhetoric is hardly needed. In the end, this decision will hinge on the project's compliance with land-use stipulations. The Planning Commission, having reviewed a 2,000-page environmental impact report, gave it thumbs up.

Unless the opposition can poke a hole in the parking plan -- only 71 spaces for 350 members because the majority walk to services -- Saranap residents probably can figure on seeing dump trucks in their future.

Of all the words uttered Tuesday, the ones that resonated loudest came from longtime resident Marilyn Arno: "In the 61 years I have lived in Saranap, I have never experienced such a division of our community."

That's one thing on which everybody can agree.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarn- idge@bayareanewsgroup.com