Won Buddhism proposes new building in Glenside

By Mischa Aaron Arnosky, Times Chronicle, June 20, 2007

Glenside, PA (USA) -- Seeking to build a rectory to house its ministers, and to compromise with residents, Won Buddhism of Philadelphia Inc. applied for zoning relief to allow for the expansion of its temple at 423 Abington Ave. in Glenside Tuesday night.

The organization proposed a 750-square-foot building to be placed behind the temple, which would house two or three ministers.

Thomas Dinardo, project architect for the proposed rectory, provided renderings of the structure, which is a one-story building with a storage basement placed in the rear of the current temple. Dinardo said the building would look similar to the temple - having a similar brick pattern style and shingles, that would tie the two buildings together aesthetically. Inside would be a living room, which would face Parkdale Avenue, a kitchen, a bathroom and two bedrooms. A concrete walkway would connect the two structures, though it is unclear if the walkway would be covered, and two parking spots would be provided.

According to Won Buddhism attorney Peter Friedman, the 3,000-square-foot temple is a legal, non-conforming use - defined as such because the former church which houses the temple is between 75 to 100 years old - predating Abington's zoning code. Friedman said the organization is permitted to expand its square footage up to 25 percent. The architect's renderings reflected a 750-square-foot structure. An enclosed walkway would add to that figure and would require the temple to seek a variance, which Friedman did at the end of the hearing.

Residents opposed the housing of six ministers at a single house owned by Won Buddhism at 430 Abington Ave. in March of 2005. Friedman called Won Buddhism's prior attempt to house the ministers "controversial," adding the current proposal would be a compromise.

"It seems clear to me that the proposed expansion by 750 square feet, within the standards, is a very suitable solution as a considerable accommodation to all parties including the township and its neighbors," Friedman said. "This will solve the problem once and for all."

Won Buddhism board member So Cue Koh said the proposed building, in addition to housing two to three members, would serve as a venue for small meetings during times when it would be more feasible to heat a small building rather than the large temple.

Koh said four priests are assigned to the temple, though one is in Korea, and said he thinks it's necessary to have the priests reside on temple grounds so they are more easily accessible. Koh added that traditionally, all Won Buddhist Temples have living quarters, including the 19 in the U.S.

Attorney Brian McVan, representing resident Joseph Manero Jr., who lives across the street from the temple, said Won Buddhist's literature does not differentiate between clergy and students, intimating that without that distinction anyone could reside in the proposed building. McVan cited the organization's Web site that read, "Everyone is a teacher and a student at the same time ..."

Koh said the building would strictly house ordained ministry.

Manero, concerned about increased activity, including prayer services and school tutoring, spoke out against the organization at a zoning hearing board meeting in March 2005.

Tuesday's proceeding got heated when McVan asked Koh if the organization had plans to make the Glenside temple a national or world headquarters for Won Buddhism. Zoning hearing board member Edward Boyd said many of McVan's questions had no bearing on a zoning hearing.

"We have to be cognizant of how far off the scope we get," Boyd said.

Resident Mike Carney said he has been a member of the temple since 1996 and the proposed building would be an asset to the neighborhood. He added that "little difficulties" regarding the proposed building could be worked out.

"It's a nice compromise and it seems to fit," Carney said. "It is out of eye sight of those who are complaining the most and it's a valuable asset to residents in Glenside. In time I hope more people see that."

Manero said the temple already holds services every day and night, including meetings it is not zoned for. He questioned why the organization purchased the land for its current temple knowing its other syndicates have space to house ministers.

Resident James Donahue, who has also spoken out against Won Buddhism in the past, echoed Manero's remarks.

"I object to what they're going to do," Donahue said. "There's no guarantee how many people are going to be there. It's a general deterioration of what was a nice residential area."
In closing, Friedman said the organization met the burden for the special exception, adding there was no evidence regarding the lack of house safety or wellness issues.

Testimony was closed and the board will make a decision in the coming weeks.