I have a post up at the other site about a couple of communities denying permits to build Buddhist temples or dharma centers. The Justice Department recently filed a suit against a California community for blatant discrimination against a proposed Zen center. You can read the suit, United States v. City of Walnut, California, here.
The story, in brief: The Chung Tai Zen Center, with between 100 and 200 members, had been holding services and meditation classes in a house sitting on a 2.19 acre lot. The area is zoned for residences and churches, and several churches are in the neighborhood.
In 2001 the zennies decided they needed a bigger space. They drew up plans in consultation with other organizations in the neighborhood and with city officials. In 2003, they submitted their plans to the Planning Commission for feedback.
The Planning Commission expressed concern that the proposed facility would be too large and didn’t provide enough on-site parking. The PC told the zennies they could get a permit for a smaller facility. However, at the same meeting the Vice-Chair of the PC expressed concern that the zennies would try to “recruit” students at a local Middle School.
So the zennies downsized the plans by more than 40 percent and provided for parking lots, and applied for a permit to build. The PC said the facility was still too big. The PC also asked the zennies to limit the size and frequency of meditation classes and provide valet parking for special events. Further, the zennies were asked to submit a traffic study to be sure the facility didn’t foul up traffic.
So the zennies did that, and the PC decided they didn’t like the traffic study (which anticipated no serious problem) and asked for another one that included additional data that, the PC admitted, were not usually required.
Finally, in 2008, the PC held a public hearing and voted to deny the permit.
At the January 16, 2008 hearing, the Commissioners provided explanations for denying the application, including a belief that the Zen Center would be a “tourist attraction” and would attract numerous visitors and adherents from outside Walnut. Although the proposed Zen Center was in fact smaller than other houses of worship in Walnut, certain Commissioners stated that the Zen Center, as a Buddhist house of worship, would resemble much larger Buddhist temples elsewhere in California and in Taiwan.
Later in 2008, the Walnut PC approved the building of a Catholic Church in the same neighborhood. The church will be three times larger than the Zen Center would have been. Further, after the denial of the permit, the zennies were no longer allowed to use the house they’d been using for religious purposes, so they had to move to another community. Effectively, they were run out of town.
As I said, the Justice Department has filed a suit.
The other recent episode occurred in Rankin County, Mississippi. A group of about 20 Vietnamese immigrants had been using an old trailer parked on a three-acre plot in Pelahatchie as their temple. They decided to build a proper temple, and applied to the local Board of Supervisors for a permit. Apparently the temple would not have been in violation of existing zoning ordinances, but the B of S turned them down, anyway. “If your congregation was to grow, where is it going to grow?” the County Supervisor said.
The Buddhists have a three-acre plot, notice. I’m guessing Rankin County is well stocked with big Southern Baptist churches, and that many of those churches are built on less than three-acre plots.
The B of S also had received a petition signed by 130 residents opposed to the temple. The signees said they were afraid the temple would screw up local traffic.
I monitor news stories involving Buddhism, and such stories about building permit denials come up occasionally. Sometimes permits are denied because of zoning laws, but more often the claim is that the temple will cause traffic and parking congestion. It’s hard to tell from a distance whether such claims are legitimate. But somehow I have a hard time believing that a little temple on a three-acre plot in Pelahatchie, Mississippi, would necessarily tie the community up in gridlock.