Buddhist temple fate undecided

By Robert Lowell, American Journal, Feb 14, 2008

BUXTON, Maine (USA) -- The Buxton Planning Board once again declined to vote Monday on approving a permit request by a Buddhist temple.

“We want an answer tonight,” said Navan Leng, president of the temple.

Eric Mehnert, lawyer for Matt Samaki Cambodian Buddhist Temple, asked the board for an “up or down vote," but didn’t get it.

The temple is asking for permission to meet at 128 Back Nippen Road, in a rural residential area where a church would be allowed. Two monks live in the home with an attached building that once housed a printing business.

Jeremiah Ross, chairman of the Planning Board, who was to meet with the town lawyer, declined Tuesday to comment on the temple's request.

Code Enforcement Officer Fred Farnham said Tuesday he believed the request would be back on the board's agenda on Monday, Feb. 25. The temple also needs a permit from the state fire marshal’s office. Farnham said temple representatives met with state fire officials Tuesday and the temple agreed to make modifications in the building to conform with fire codes.

Monday's Planning Board public hearing was a continuation one held in January, and in both cases, concerns for neighbors and planners have included traffic, parking, the septic system and the number of large gatherings the temple would hold.

But Beth Sturtevant of North Yarmouth, a volunteer helping the temple through the process, thought the concerns were discussed and had been covered.

“I understand your frustration,” Ross said, but, he said, the ordinances had to be met to be fair to everybody.

The temple has been trying for nearly three years to win town approval. In March 2006, the temple bought the property and filed a permit application. But the Planning Board didn’t take action because necessary information wasn’t provided by a monk who formerly lived at the temple. Town and temple officials agree that there was miscommunication.

Some Planning Board members said Monday they thought the temple’s plan needed to be modified to include a stormwater pond to collect runoff from parking to trap pollution before draining into wetlands.

“I would have difficulty voting on this tonight as is,” said Planning Board member James Logan, who believed plans were incomplete.

The temple also is being asked to resubmit plans for the 67-car parking lot after planners discovered that parking spaces were 6 inches short of an ordinance required 9-foot width.

Keith Emery, vice chairman of the board, said he believed previous boards hadn’t always so strictly adhered to ordinances in the past.

“If we go by the book on this one, we better go by the book on everyone, Emery said.

An abutter, Larry Miller, said the degree of specifics required by the Planning Board is increasing and is unfair to the temple.

“It’s really inexcusable,” Miller said.

Buxton doesn’t have a town planner, and Ross said he thought the temple might need consultants to help meet conditions and town ordinances.

The process appeared bogged down Monday. “I feel there’s a standoff,” Logan said.

“At some point, its got to end and a decision made,” Mehnerd told the Planning Board.

After the hearing, the board passed a motion by Emery to consult with town attorney William Plouffe about the matter. The board also voted Monday to close the public hearing, and now its unclear if further public comment would be allowed. Farnham said that matter was one of the items Ross was to discuss with Plouffe Tuesday.

After the meeting, Sturtevant was clearly stumped.

“I really don’t know what to come back with,” Sturtevant said