Ukiah Planning Commission to consider Buddhist plan for former Trinity School site

Ukiah Daily Journal, Aug 12, 2014

Ukiah, NY (USA) -- The Ukiah Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing tonight as it considers granting a permit to the Dharma Realm Buddhist University that would allow it to expand its university-level classes into the site of the former Trinity School on West Church Street.

The commission was expected to hold a public hearing last month, but not enough members were available to vote on the permit as at least two members recused themselves due to the fact that they own property near the project.

According to the staff report prepared for tonight's meeting, staff is recommending approval of the Major Use Permit of the 4.96-acre site, which includes eight buildings and has been vacant since 2009.

The staff's analysis finds that:

  • The project will "strongly contribute to the excellence in local education by providing a distinguished university within the city limits.
  • The project is "an adaptive reuse of existing historic resources in a way that is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.
  • No construction or alteration of architecture or character of the site is proposed or required.
  • The applicants have been "working with the city to explore continued community use of the gymnasium and possible use of other buildings."
  • The project would "positively contribute to the local economy by bringing a university and its students to an area in close proximity to downtown shopping, restaurants, etc."
  • At this time, the applicants are not proposing adding signs, but have submitted a landscaping plan that includes planting a minimum of nine more trees.

Wayne Chen, director of Development and Strategic Planning for the university, which currently holds classes at the City of 10,000 Buddhas in Talmage and at a second location in Berkeley, said the university was attracted to the campus because it has all the facilities it needs: classrooms, dormitories, kitchen, cafeteria and plenty of green space for meditation and outdoor exercising.

When describing one of the few changes the university planned to make to the site, Allen Huang said one of the biggest complaints the surrounding community had about Trinity School was that there wasn't enough parking spaces for staff members, and they frequently parked on city streets, limiting the spaces available to residents.

Huang said the university planned to add 43 more parking spaces to the campus, which would exceed the city's requirement of 61 spaces by eight. He said the new parking lots would be put on existing paved areas, so "no trees will be cut down, and there will be no loss of green space."

When asked if nearby residents would still be able to walk their dogs through the property, Huang said the campus would operate much like the campus in Talmage, which has a park-like atmosphere that is welcoming to both humans and animals, especially peacocks. However, Huang said he could not answer definitively yet whether or not people could come there with their dogs. Chen also added that the university did not plan to bring any peacocks to the westside campus.

When asked what the university planned to do about noise, Huang said the campus would not be a "normal, party school. We are a very unique type of university," where students are more likely to be meditating than "drinking beer on a Friday night."

The commission's meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the City Council chambers at 300 Seminary Ave.