Buddhist monk says he'll try again for permit to open monastery

by Justin Fritscher, The Clarion Ledger, October 12, 2010

Minh Cong Nguyen looking for space for meditation classes

PELAHATCHIE, MS (USA) -- A Buddhist monk says he plans to petition Rankin County officials again in hopes of operating a monastery.

But until then, he is shopping for temporary office space to hold meditation classes.

"I was planning on renting office space some place to hold my meditation classes for the public and for anyone who is interested," Minh Cong Nguyen said. "I cannot hold it at the monastery because we do not have our permit yet, but we are in the process of attaining it."

Last month, the county's Board of Supervisors denied Nguyen's request to have a monastery on McKay Place north of Pelahatchie.

Nguyen said he has heard from interested worshippers after the county shut down renovations at the monastery - a spruced up mobile home - saying it exceeded what the building permit allowed.

Community Development Director Roy Edwards said a permit was pulled for an addition to a mobile home, not a religious institution. All religious institutions require a conditional-use permit, and they are approved on a site-by-site basis, Edwards said.

The monastery sits on a small road that feeds into Mississippi 43. The congregation is composed of about 20 Vietnamese Americans.

Last month, a band of nearby homeowners stated their opposition to the religious facility opening on the site, saying the street was too narrow to accommodate it. A petition with 130 opposing signatures was given to supervisors.

District 4 Supervisor Walter Johnson said he has heard an "outpouring of concern" from nearby residents about traffic, related to use and parking along the quiet lane, which was among the reasons supervisors cited for denying the request.

Congregation member Ai Mai said the monastery has plans to purchase 10 more acres, providing the space needed for parking and to take care of some of the other concerns raised by nearby homeowners and officials.

"I know they had a point with parking along the road," Mai said. "We can fix that."