Residents of Evergreen are raising new concerns over a proposed Buddhist temple in their San Jose neighborhood which now seeks to change zoning of the site.
Wat Khmer Kampuchea Krom wants to rezone the lot from a residential zone to a Public-Quasi-Public (PQP) zone, which residents fear will lead to a more “intense” use of the property.
Religious buildings already are permitted in residential zones but they are subject to certain building codes, such as height caps and noise restrictions. If the lot is rezoned to PQP, the height cap goes from 35 feet to 65 feet and the building can be 10 feet from the street instead of 25 feet. Louder levels of noise also are permitted.
“Everyone would like it to stay as close as possible to the characteristics of the neighborhood,” said Janet Holt, a member of Evergreen Neighborhood Community Core, a group formed to oppose the temple project.
Residents have met with representatives from Wat Khmer Kampuchea Krom, a religious organization that practices Theravada Buddhism, for almost two years to reach an agreement on the temple for the 1.86-acre lot at the corner of Ruby and Norwood avenues.
“Over the course of this proposal, we’ve proactively reached out to neighbors and listened to their input. We have had more than a dozen meetings with groups and individuals, as it is our desire to have a temple that the community can be proud of,” said Lyna Lam, Wat Khmer Kampuchea Krom founder and executive director.
“We are working hard to incorporate this input into a new design and we look forward to sharing our updates with the neighbors. After generations of being displaced, the Khmer Krom members are proud to call San Jose their home. We look forward to maintaining our deep roots here, in a peaceful and safe environment, in this community that values diversity,” Lam said.
Designs for the temple have been revised at least twice based on community feedback before plans were submitted to the San Jose Planning Commission Jan. 7.
“Right from the get-go, I don’t think anyone had concerns about a religious building in the neighborhood,” said Murali Pabbisetty, another member of Evergreen Neighborhood Community Core. “Not one person said they don’t want it.”
The neighborhood’s initial concerns centered around the underground parking garage and the size of the project, as well as the precedent the underground parking lot would set for other new projects in residential areas.
Holt said neighbors were worried about major events such as weddings causing traffic and noise on the street, but were reassured by the Wat Khmer Kampuchea Krom representatives that weddings and funerals wouldn’t happen at the temple. However, the conditional use permit filed with the city Planning Commission includes plans to rent out the space for such events.
“Their operating conditions were more than they originally told us but weddings and funerals are done in religious buildings so it’s not that the neighbors don’t expect it,” Holt said. “We don’t think you’ll have any way to control it.”
Pabbisetty agreed, emphasizing the problem is not that the temple will be used for bigger events but that the plans need to reflect and account for these types of events.
“I support them doing (celebrations) but let’s do it right by right-sizing the temple,” Pabbisetty said. “Let’s plan for it. Once they come, we are their neighbors. We don’t want to be their monitors.”
From a Planning Commission perspective, the different zone distinctions change who makes the decision to allow the project to move forward. The rezoning request requires the City Council’s approval, which is granted after considering the planning commission’s recommendation.
The Planning Commission received a conditional use permit and one version of the plan set in January, said Michelle Flores, a commission staff member overseeing the project. The commission is now waiting for the project to be resubmitted by the temple.
Once the project is resubmitted, it undergoes at least one round of review and more community meetings. If there are still comments on the project after the next resubmittal, it undergoes a second round of review.
Flores said the timing of the next community meeting depends on how quickly the temple revises and resubmits their plans.
The commission’s analysis and recommendation will be posted online one week prior to the City Council’s hearing. Flores said the project’s webpage includes updates on the project.
Demolition work on the property began in March. .
Wat Khmer Kampuchea Krom tried to be considerate of the strains of the demolition on the neighbors.
“The safety of our neighborhood is a top priority, and we took these precautionary measures at our own expense and our own risk since we have yet to receive approval to build on the site,” they wrote in an open letter to the community. “We will continue to respond to concerns and act quickly to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being.”